TWIN FALLS — Julie Blick has years of experience working in preschool settings, but she’s making a transition this year to become an elementary school teacher.
The Twin Falls School District hired her in early July as a third-grade teacher for Oregon Trail Elementary School. Now, Blick is gearing up for the school year to begin.
Blick doesn’t have a teaching credential yet, but she’s in a new College of Southern Idaho alternate authorization program that will help her earn one.
CSI is launching the program Aug. 20 for people who have a bachelor’s degree in any subject area and are becoming a teacher. It’s a response to a statewide teacher shortage.
State studies have shown the shortage is hitting south-central Idaho the hardest, particularly in rural areas. With fewer applicants, schools are increasingly hiring people who haven’t gone through a traditional university teaching preparation program in order to fill vacancies.
“What’s happening is that we’re not having a lot of teachers in the pipeline,” said Tracey Meyerhoeffer, education department chairwoman at CSI. “There’s a dearth of individuals applying. School districts are not receiving qualified applicants for those positions, which leaves them in a lurch.”
There’s a need for teachers, Twin Falls School District spokeswoman Eva Craner said. “There really is a lack of certified folks applying for positions in the district right now.”
There are 65 new teachers in the Twin Falls district this school year. Of those, about 12 are under alternate authorization. That includes those without any teaching experience and teachers who are certified but need a new endorsement in order to teach a particular grade level or subject.
Without hiring teachers who have alternate authorizations, the district would have fewer teachers and larger class sizes, Craner said.
So far, 18 people have signed up for CSI’s alternate authorization program. It’s open only to teachers here in south-central Idaho. The program’s capacity is 20, so there’s still room for two more.
Participants have accepted a teaching position in kindergarten through 12th grades. Through CSI’s program, they’ll complete five online teaching pedagogy modules at their own pace. They’ll also take a teaching test called the Praxis to demonstrate content knowledge and will need to pass an evaluation.
Once they complete the program, they’ll gain certification in the area they’re teaching.
Blick, who described herself as “brand new to the profession,” studied early childhood education in college and worked with children through practicums. She worked for CSI’s child development program and Head Start.
“Most of my experience, though, has been with practicum instruction or curriculum instruction for the teachers,” she said. “I didn’t work a whole lot with the kids.”
Most recently, Blick worked for IdahoSTARS, which helps childcare providers meet national quality standards and parents find quality care options.
Ever since she got out of college, Blick thought she’d get her teaching certification. But then she started having her own children and never followed through with it.
She recently saw Twin Falls School District associate superintendent Bill Brulotte and he mentioned she should look into alternate authorization. And Blick was texting Meyerhoeffer about their 30-year school reunion and found out about CSI’s new offering in the process.
Blick said she didn’t realize she could get hired as a teacher before getting certified. “I thought I’d actually have to go through the program and then get a job.”
She applied for an elementary teaching position this summer with the Twin Falls School District. “It went really fast,” Blick said. “It was all within three days that it happened.”
The school district has talked with CSI about the new alternate authorization program, human resources director Shannon Swafford said. “We’re excited to have another certification route to get new teachers into the district.”
So far, three new teachers in the Twin Falls School District — in elementary, middle school and special education — have signed up. “It will be nice to see how it will work for the different content areas,” human resources manager Sonia DeLeon said.
The school district has a strong relationship with CSI and it’s nice to have a local option for alternate authorization, DeLeon said.
A common alternate authorization route is to take online classes through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. The nonprofit, established by a U.S. Department of Education grant, helps people who already have a bachelor’s degree and want to change careers.
CSI’s certification program isn’t centered on high-stakes testing, Meyerhoeffer said. “In CSI’s case, it’s more like a teacher preparation program.”
Online modules will be taught by a professor who has years of experience. Students will have to demonstrate competency through project-based assessments.
The program will also assign each participant a mentor, likely a recently retired teacher or school administrator. The mentor will even go into the teacher’s classroom to help out.
“I think this will set the program aside from others,” Meyerhoeffer said. “One thing these candidates do not have is student teaching. That’s where theory moves to practicality.”
The Twin Falls School District already provides each of its first-year teachers with a mentor. Those in CSI’s program will essentially have two mentors — one through the school district and one through CSI.
For new teachers who don’t have hands-on student teaching experience, “it can be very difficult for them,” Meyerhoeffer said. “There’s a sharp learning curve.”
The alternate authorization program aims to look at areas that could be a weakness for someone who doesn’t have a typical teacher preparation background and “shore them up into strengths,” she said.
For Blick, she expects that being an elementary school teacher will be challenging since it’s a new job and she’s nervous about taking the Praxis test.
“I’m just really excited to be in the classroom,” she said.
Blick has already met the other third-grade teachers at Oregon Trail — including one who went through alternate authorization — and they’re a great group, she said.
“I feel like I have a lot of support.”