Joel Leath had a good idea of what he was getting into when he started teaching students as part of his education studies at UNC Greensboro.
“It wasn’t, ‘This is my first time in a classroom. I don’t know what to do,'” Leath recalled.
He learned what to do while enrolled in cadet teacher courses at East Forsyth High School. A statewide program that Stephanie Wallace led at East Forsyth for more than 20 years, student teachers learn the ins and outs of teaching and gain classroom experience in preparation for a possible future in education, a field that is losing people at an alarming rate. .
Under Wallace, the Teacher Cadet program turned into a pipeline, connecting students to possible classroom jobs. Of the 266 who have completed the program, more than 180 are teaching in North Carolina, with nearly 100 teaching in the local district, including Leath, who is in her fifth year teaching science at East Forsyth Middle School where he was the school’s teacher of the year for 2022.
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Additionally, a handful of former Wallace cadets, such as Amanda Frederico, are now his colleagues at East Forsyth.
“I’m passionate about training our own teachers,” said Wallace, the 2020 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Teacher of the Year. “That’s been central to my advocacy work. “
Wallace’s work has attracted attention at the district and national level.
Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union with 3 million members, recently traveled to East Forsyth to learn more about the program, participating in separate roundtables with local educators and current cadets.
“We’ve heard of amazing things happening here,” Pringle said.
The program lost funding from the North Carolina General Assembly in 2011 and is now supported by grants and funds from the North Carolina Foundation for Public School Children.
Superintendent Tricia McManus was impressed enough with the program to push for its possible expansion to all high schools in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools using part of the $13 million grant the district recently awarded. received from the Office of the Effective Teacher of Elementary and Secondary Education. Division, part of the United States Department of Education.
Now at East Forsyth, Mount Tabor and Walkertown High Schools, student teacher programs will be expanded in the 2022-2023 school year to Glenn, Winston-Salem Prep, Reynolds and North Forsyth High Schools. By the following year, there will be cadet teacher programs in all high schools in the district.
“If we’re going to build the pipeline, we need to get these programs into the schools,” Leslie Alexander, the school district’s acting director of human resources, told the school board in March.
One of the goals of the expansion is to build a more diverse workforce. The racial makeup of the student body is almost evenly split between white, black, and Hispanic; however, 74% of teachers are white compared to 21% black and about 4% Hispanic, Alexander said.
The Teacher Cadet program is expanding statewide, said Wallace, who trains teachers statewide to implement the program.
Some of the growth could be due to fewer people interested in pursuing a career in education.
According to Public Schools First NC, the number of students enrolled in education programs in the UNC system between 2012 and 2021 fell by 35% while enrollment in master’s programs fell by 9%.
Mindful of these numbers and their impact on the local school district, McManus interviewed the cadets during last week’s roundtable with Pringle and said, “Everyone of you has a job.”
She was particularly impressed with the enthusiasm the cadets showed when talking to her and Pringle about what they like about the program.
“It’s heaven among high school students who want to get into teaching,” she said.
Pringle mostly listened and took notes as some of the cadets talked about what they learned in the program, which covers a range of topics from the history of education to the role of the state legislature in how to make a lesson plan. Students spend time in elementary, middle and high schools so they can get an idea of the grade level they would like to teach and some get the chance to spend time with school counselors and psychologists.
Former cadets have praised the program for giving them a head start in college.
“I had to take an educational psychology course at UNCG, and I already knew that. I had seen it in practice,” Leath said.
Some of the cadets said family members and friends wondered why they wanted to become a teacher.
“I normally get the backlash because of the salary. We need to change the mindset of going into a career for a paycheck,” said Amaya Matthews, a junior, who wants to teach high school English.
According to Matthews and other cadets, educators play a huge role in children’s lives.
“Educators can tell you when something is wrong with your child. People think all they do is teach,” she said. “I wish there was a way to pull back the curtain. For me, it’s ‘Yes, I’m a teacher, but I’m going to help you be the person I know you can be.'”
The program is for students who are interested in careers involving children, not just teaching. A cadet in Wallace’s class wants to work with youth groups in churches and thought the program would give him insight into working with children.
McManus said the program should have the same support as other district programs that promote a career path.
“They get to see great teaching in action in our schools, so what better place to recruit the future of our profession than right here in our schools?” she says.