How Teacher Apprenticeship is Changing Teacher Preparation

Blog Post
A teacher sits on a desk in a classroom
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages
Oct. 26, 2023

Public education is facing a shortage of qualified teachers. In recent years, about 10 percent of all teaching positions across the country were either unfilled or filled by teachers who were not fully certified, according to data from the Learning Policy Institute. Policymakers are acting on the problem by raising teacher pay, offering loan forgiveness, providing teachers with housing, and expanding pathways and on-ramps into the teaching profession.

Perhaps the shiniest new pathway is Registered Teacher Apprenticeship, which combines paid on-the-job training under the guidance of a mentor teacher with highly subsidized (or free) tuition. Teacher apprenticeship is a promising model for increasing access into the teaching profession, boosting the incentives to train as a teacher, and strengthening clinical preparation. In 2021, New York was one of the first states to approve a Registered Apprenticeship program for K-12 teachers. And in 2022, Tennessee became the first state to register a program with the US Department of Labor. By the end of March of that year, US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona was calling on all states to create teacher apprenticeship programs as a strategy for addressing teacher shortages.

Clearly, education leaders were listening. By January 2024, teacher apprenticeship programs had been formally registered in 30 states plus Puerto Rico.

What will this quick uptake of teacher apprenticeship mean to teachers, to preparation programs, to schools and to the students they educate? Based on an analysis of programs across the country, teacher apprenticeship has the potential to transform teacher preparation in a number of positive ways and at the very least will challenge the status quo.

Below are five takeaways from our preliminary scan of the still-evolving teacher apprenticeship landscape:

Apprenticeship Gives School Districts a Bigger Role in Teacher Preparation

Historically, school districts have played a supporting role in teacher preparation—hosting teacher candidates during their practicum or student teaching experiences. Teacher apprenticeship programs flip the script and position many school districts in the driver’s seat. As the US Department of Labor (DOL) notes on their website, “Apprenticeship is an industry-driven, high-quality career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce.” As the employer, school districts are responsible for hiring apprentices, paying apprentices, providing On the Job Training (OJT), and must collaborate with educator preparation programs to develop Related Technical Instruction (RTI) that is designed to complement what's learned on the job. (Moving into apprenticeship terrain means that schools have to learn terminology like this acronym, used by the DOL). Typically, employers are also responsible for paying for apprentices’ related technical instruction. In some cases the school district may even offer some of the related instruction or be the program sponsor, such as in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Texas. Under this model, teacher preparation becomes grounded in meeting the workforce needs of individual school districts.

In Oregon, which is launching a small teacher apprenticeship pilot in six school districts, the program sponsor is an entity known as the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC). The JATC is made up of training agents (school district & educational service district employees and employers) as voting members who will guide the Oregon Teaching Apprenticeship. Representatives from partnering related training providers (Community Colleges and Educator Preparation Providers) will serve on the JATC in an advisory, non-voting role. The current Administrator for the Oregon JATC is a member of the Educator Preparation and Pathways Unit of the Teachers Standard and Practices Commission (TSPC) to ensure that the Teaching Apprenticeship aligns with all Oregon educator preparation program standards.

The JATC has the responsibility of approving teacher apprenticeship applications, supporting apprentices, monitoring their progress, and addressing any disciplinary issues that may arise. In essence, the training agents (school district employees and employers) have responsibility for the oversight of the apprenticeship program.

Apprenticeship Puts Paid Clinical Preparation Front & Center

Teacher apprenticeships are joining an evolving landscape of teacher preparation. This landscape includes traditional undergraduate programs that center foundational, theoretical and pedagogical coursework with limited clinical training; alternative certification programs that provide a fast-track into the classroom; graduate-level teacher residency programs that provide a minimum of one-year of clinical training under the guidance of a mentor teacher; and more.

To be sure, teacher apprenticeship overlaps with some of these approaches, particularly teacher residency, but it has a few distinct features. Primarily, paid clinical preparation is at the center of the model, with coursework being aligned and complementary. Apprentices must be paid a progressive wage that increases as they demonstrate mastery of key skills and competencies. They must work under the guidance of a mentor teacher who is responsible for helping them learn on the job competencies and measuring their progress towards meeting those competencies. Apprentices must participate a specified number of hours of OJT and RTI each year to meet standards set by the state or US DOL. That means they will have several years of paid work experience in a classroom prior to becoming a teacher of record—a big shift from traditional models with unpaid student teaching placements that last 14-16 weeks.

Some teacher preparation programs may be wary of the changes brought by apprenticeship models. And so there will need to be targeted efforts to build buy-in and address the concerns of those working in teacher preparation. Teacher apprenticeship is a partnership that requires cross-sector collaboration to ensure that apprentices are provided with the necessary training, education and supports to be successful teachers.

Apprenticeship Programs Must Register for Approval

All states have an approval process for teacher preparation programs to ensure that graduates meet specified standards and have received the education and training necessary to teach in the state. The approval is usually provided by a state education agency or another state-level education entity, such as an educator licensing and standards board. Most states mandate that teacher apprenticeship programs include an approved teacher preparation provider.

But in order to be recognized as a Registered Apprenticeship, programs must go through a process of approval and registration with either a state level apprenticeship agency or the US Department of Labor. Traditionally, teacher preparation programs have not been connected to larger workforce development initiatives and systems. Just as the lingo is different, education leaders must also learn how to navigate and comply with the standards set for Registered Apprenticeship, shared Colleen McDonald, Director of the New York State Educator Workforce Development HUB.

To give a little snapshot into the process, McDonald noted that programs must be aligned to the regulations and standards set by the New York Department of Education and the New York Department of Labor. For example, the work process schedule, which outlines the tasks, competencies, and hours that must be completed by apprentices, must be aligned with state regulations governing teacher certification. In addition, because teachers are not paid an hourly wage, “we had to figure out a way to reflect that and [to develop] the wage progression when completing the DOL forms to register the program,” said McDonald.

Apprenticeship Can Boost Access and Create Incentives to Pursue Teacher Training

Teacher apprenticeship is often described as a way to “become a teacher for free while getting paid to do so.” These programs can create incentives to pursue a career in teaching and potentially open access into the profession for historically underserved populations by removing financial barriers.

In the states and localities that are pursuing teacher apprenticeship, target populations and entry points vary. Some states and districts are recruiting from the paraprofessional pool, including Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota and Wyoming. Paraprofessionals more closely match the racial and linguistic diversity of the student population and have significant experience supporting student learning. But, they face academic, bureaucratic and financial barriers to becoming teachers and require targeted support on their pathway to teacher certification.

Others are focused on supporting high school students, such as programs found in Indiana, Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia. West Virginia aims to provide first generation and low-income high school students with the resources necessary to support their journey to becoming a teacher. Students earn a full year of college credits before graduating and participating in 115 hours of paid field experience. They matriculate into college as sophomores and in their senior year, they serve as the clinical teacher of record earning a salary and benefits.

The state has been bullish in its approach to tackling teacher shortages by building multiple on-ramps into the profession, with the goal of removing the barriers and offering tailored supports designed to meet individuals where they are. "It's not that we don't have people that don't want to be teachers," said Carla Warren, an officer at the West Virginia Department of Education during a recent webinar. "We just don't have the opportunities in place to remove those barriers."

Apprenticeship Expands Funding Opportunities (But It’s Not Easy Money)

Providing accessible and affordable teacher pathways requires significant investments and resources to ensure sustainability. Teacher apprenticeship brings new sources of funding that can be leveraged to help programs stay on track.

Funding for Registered Apprenticeship programs comes from the federal government, through the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA), competitive grant opportunities, and formula grants administered by the US DOL. Between 2016-2021 federal apprenticeship allocations doubled—from $90 million to $185 million—largely to support expansion and modernization. States have different approaches to funding college-connected apprenticeships including financial assistance and tuition waivers for apprentices and start-up grants and reimbursement for programs. And in the case of Registered Teacher Apprenticeship, states are using federal Covid recovery dollars, federal apprenticeship funds, federal grants for teacher preparation, and budgeted allocations through larger workforce initiatives.

These funds can be blended and braided with existing resources to help support teacher apprenticeship. In North Dakota, which offers multiple GYO programs including, Registered Teacher Apprenticeship and Registered Principal Apprenticeship, a braided approach was necessary due to limited funding in the state. As Laurie Matzke, assistant superintendent at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, described during a CC Network webinar, the state used a variety of federal funds from both the US Department of Education and US Department of Labor to launch their programs.

Given the novelty of Registered Teacher Apprenticeship, it is unclear whether tapping into workforce dollars will ultimately lead to greater sustainability. Much of the funding offered is competitive or based on legislative allocations that may vary over time. But for now, states and districts should capitalize on the momentum to help increase access by removing barriers to becoming a teacher.

This blog post was updated on January 30, 2024 to reflect that Nebraska and Oklahoma have adopted teacher registered apprenticeship.

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