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‘TeachWV’ program grows, nurtures and harvests educators in the Mountain State

Audrey Simpson didn’t stop walking after she crossed the stage last spring to pick up her Class of 2022 diploma at Clay-Battelle High School.

Her steps eventually took her that fall to Fairmont State University, to embark upon a mission that most of the Mountain State’s young college students, according to current trends, have chosen to sidestep.

Audrey is an education major, with a goal of becoming an elementary school teacher.

The West Virginia Department of Education is now nurturing that minority with a program called “TeachWV,” a homegrown initiative for budding educators that offers tuition breaks and other incentives.

Workforce West Virginia and the Benedum Foundation are among the corporate entities offering support for the program.

Thirty-seven of West Virginia’s 55 counties have signed on to date, State Schools Superintendent David Roach said. The obvious objective, he said, is to get every county answering roll for the initiative.

That’s so every Mountain State student being called to the classroom can have the opportunity to join ranks in a profession with dwindling numbers, he said.

Roach last week hosted a reception in Charleston for the education majors enrolled in the initiative.

“We look forward to getting everyone,” the superintendent said, “because it is providing a real solution to our teacher recruitment challenges.”

“Challenge” is the watch-word, Carla Warren said.

Warren, a former classroom teacher who now directs development and support services across West Virginia for the state education department, gave a breakdown to those challenges in January, before the start of the 2023 Legislative session.

In 2015 in West Virginia, she mapped out that some 600 technically non-certified teachers were in front of public-school classrooms.

That number has now since more than doubled, she said, with 1,544 such educators doling out the lesson plans for the next generation of students coming up.

“We have certified teachers,” she said, “but they’re teaching out of their content area.”

And as current teachers face retirement or ponder a career change, there just aren’t as many ready to assume a role in the front of the classroom, Warren said.

There are 18 teacher-preparation programs in colleges and universities across West Virginia, and taking roll in them, she said, is easy.

Too easy.

Nine of those 18 programs graduated fewer than 20 teachers last year, she said.

Six of them, she reported, graduated 10 or fewer.

Three of those programs didn’t have one soon-to-be teacher turning his tassel at commencement, Warren said.

Engaged teachers mean engaged students, Warren said, and the homegrown initiative is designed to do just that: to keep newly minted educators from jumping over the border to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland or Virginia to do their work.

Everyone benefits, she said, every time there’s a professionally trained, certified teacher in front of a classroom.

There’s something else, too, she said.

Engaged students, in many cases, want to keep being in classrooms after high school. Educated professionals, she said, just might want to stay and work for the benefit of their home state.

“This isn’t an ‘education’ problem, she said. “It’s a workforce development problem.”

For Audrey Simpson, it’s a dream — and an opportunity to realistically pursue it.

“Teaching is all I ever wanted to do,” she said.

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