Dramatic teacher shortages are being reported in every state across the country. This is impacting all schools as school leaders struggle to fill vacant roles with quality teachers. 

While enrollment in traditional teacher preparation programs has dropped dramatically in recent years, enrollment in programs that focus on mentoring and practice are growing. In Connecticut, we are leveraging these new opportunities and looking to those already invested in our schools to be the amazing teachers our students need. 

Take Mrs. Foster, a behavior specialist at King/Robinson Inter-District Magnet School in New Haven, CT. With the school for three years, she expressed interest in becoming a teacher, but was discouraged by the long and arduous route she would have to take to get her certificate through the traditional pathways. As administrators, we heard stories like Mrs. Foster’s often. Connecticut leaders struggle to find effective teachers from diverse backgrounds who understand and identify with the students in the community. However, there is no shortage of committed and capable staff members at schools who are interested in transitioning into a teacher position. 

Talented Professionals 

Schools are full of talented people who are underutilized or underpaid and have the potential to do so much more—to have a greater impact on our students. From a paraprofessional, to a clerk, to the PTO president, we need to empower these individuals to pursue careers as teachers. 

In the last year, a new opportunity emerged for prospective teachers that provides an additional pathway for these individuals to enter the teaching profession. Relay Graduate School of Education—a national, accredited nonprofit institution of higher education—opened a campus in Connecticut. Across the country, Relay already works with more than 3,000 teachers and 500 school leaders nationwide.

Diversity Among Aspiring Teachers  

In Connecticut, we have more than 100 aspiring teachers obtaining their certification through Relay, most of whom did not study education in college. While going through the program, they are working full time in schools practicing their new craft and having an immediate impact on students. And, in a state where just 8.3 percent of teachers identify as people of color (while 44 percent of our students are people of color), more than 50 percent of Relay Connecticut’s cohort identifies as a person of color. Relay is not only providing future educators with a rigorous, high-quality, affordable, practice-based teacher training program, but the program is helping the state ensure we have more teachers in the classroom from backgrounds similar to those of our students. 

One of those aspiring teachers is Mrs. Foster. Since starting on her path to becoming a classroom teacher, she has gained a renewed sense of vigor for working with our students. Her vision for teaching is clearer, and she has an increased intensity and focus on student outcomes. She has so much enthusiasm after she comes from her Relay sessions that she often asks others for their thoughts on particular topics discussed the night before. And her enthusiasm is infectious—other faculty at the school have asked how they can become involved with Relay.

For a school leader, there is nothing better than an energized team. This approach brings new teachers and established teachers together, increasing collaboration and the energy educators are bringing into the classroom with our students. Moreover, through our partnership with Relay, we are growing the talent we need within our school to serve our students over the long term. 

Benefits for School Leaders

School leaders gain significant benefits from working with Relay. In addition to training a new cohort of high-quality, diverse teachers, principals appreciate the unique attention they receive from the Relay team, which visits each school at least three times a year to observe Relay teachers in action and offer feedback on teaching techniques and classroom management.

Like aspiring doctors, these future educators are learning alongside their co-workers during the day. Aspiring teachers in Relay’s Connecticut Alternate Route Certification program spend their evenings and weekends taking in-person and online classes led by Relay’s faculty. In this approach, we are giving future teachers the chance to practice, learn from the best, and become confident leaders of their classrooms. 

Promising Results 

While this approach to preparing teachers is relatively new, early results are promising. Nationwide, students taught by Relay-trained teachers showed a 30 percent reading growth last year. These educators—who were given the chance to try the profession before taking over a classroom—are also more likely to stay with it. Of those who have completed Relay’s teacher preparation programs over the past six years, more than two-thirds are working as teachers and teacher leaders in preK–12 classrooms, and 90 percent are living the Relay mission through careers in education. 

We believe, in Connecticut and across the country, that if we can create a relay of outstanding teachers, our students will be able to reach their potential and go on to live meaningful, choice-filled lives. We think those already invested in our students are likely part of how we ensure classrooms are led by strong educators. We simply need to provide the opportunities for these individuals to become teachers.  

Joseph Johnson is the principal at King/Robinson Inter-District Magnet School in New Haven, CT, an IB World School. Rebecca Good is the founding dean at Relay Connecticut.