CGHS program inspires students to teach

Teacher cadet Kyleigh Walker-Joseph, a junior at CGHS, joins children for unstructured play.

Cottage Grove High School (CGHS) has been providing students with a pathway to education careers for the past four years and is beginning to see hometown returns on its efforts.

The school’s Teacher Cadet Program encourages high school students to consider a career in education by offering exposure to a range of introductory education concepts through Lane Community College (LCC) and more than 40 hours of field work.

“It’s the course that you take so that you can get into a teacher licensure program,” said Geriann Walker, CGHS science teacher and instructor for the course. “So it’s a nice, broad overview of teaching and learning.”

Beginning with 12 students in its first year, the CGHS teacher cadet course has grown to include its current 14 students per year, positions which are awarded in a competitive application process.

“We’ve had more students apply than we have spots for,” Walker said.

The Teacher Cadet class is the last step of the school’s teacher education pathway, which includes the LCC courses Introductory Child Development and Early Childhood Education.

The program also comes with time in real classroom environments where cadets can observe teachers and learners at a full range of grade levels.

“It also allows for exploration of trauma in students’ backgrounds and developing trauma-informed practices in the classroom and it allows for all these hours in the field,” said Walker, who also coordinates all field experience hours for the students.

Now a national curriculum, the Teacher Cadet Program was first piloted in South Carolina in the mid-1980s and has grown to be adopted by dozens of states. The curriculum and instructor training are provided by CERRA (Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement) out of South Carolina.

For CGHS, the program began in 2016. Walker has been the program’s instructor since its inception.

‘Grow Your Own’ Teachers

Bringing the program to CGHS was largely motivated by reports of teacher shortages in Oregon.

The Oregon Department of Education, in its latest teacher shortage report, highlighted a significant shortage in specific disciplines and districts.

“While research indicates that teacher shortages exist, it also indicates that they should not be characterized as a statewide crisis,” reads the report. “Rather, teacher shortages are a series of smaller, localized concerns.”

The report identified special education, physical education, health, math and Spanish as potential shortage areas and pointed to more rural counties as being vulnerable to shortages of highly qualified teachers.

South Lane School District (SLSD) has felt the impact of the shortage not only locally, but in its statewide recruitment searches as well.

“I guess there are two ways to look at it,” said Interim Assistant Superintendent Brian McCasline. “There is a shortage of teachers, especially in mathematics and special education. The state may say that it is localized, but there aren’t enough teachers with specific licenses. Since we are outside the Portland/Salem area, we see more of a shortage; but statewide, we don’t have enough teachers to fill positions.

“In South Lane, we have worked hard to recruit across the state each year to make sure that we are able to draw good candidates for these hard-to-fill positions.”

A looming wave of retirees has also caused concern. According to the State of Oregon Employment Department’s 2013-2017 estimates, about 26 percent of the education, training and library workforce was over 55.

By 2027, around 123,000 jobs are projected to open up in these fields and 82 percent of the Oregon education workforce is expected to turn over.

“They’re referring to it as the ‘Silver Tsunami,’” said Walker. “There were a lot of cuts to education during the recession, so there weren’t a lot of people feeding into the pipeline at the time. And yet we have all these people who are retiring and exiting.”

Paying for school, a four-year degree requirement and a steep learning curve are a few of the factors which may be impeding entry into the profession, Walker said.

Creating teacher education pathways has been one way to get ahead of a future shortage and decrease barriers.

“They’re based on what we call a ‘Grow Your Own’ model,” said Walker. “Students come up through our school district system, they know our community, they know the people in our community and they have interest in becoming educators in our community.”

By providing opportunities to develop pre-professional educator skills early and keeping connected with students after graduation, the hope is that students will return for practicum hours or student teaching and possibly become teachers in their hometown.

“There’s a lot of research that says students respond better when they have adults in front of them who reflect who they are and what their community is,” Walker said. “So this is a really powerful model.”

Now four years running, the program is beginning to see returns on this idea.

“A student from our second-year cohort was just on our high school campus doing teacher licensure practicum hours with one of our English teachers,” said Walker. “And the intention is to come back here and do student teaching and to work here. That’s the Grow Your Own model.”

Another past teacher cadet is currently working as a part-time education assistant at Bohemia Elementary School while studying to become a teacher.

And more may be coming. LCC has been considering reinstating an education assistant certificate option. For students who earn college credit as they progress through the high school program, a graduating teacher cadet would be only two courses shy of getting that certificate.

The Curriculum

With a wide range of educational opportunities on the table, the program attracts not only those who want to be teachers, but also educators of different capacities.

“For example, I have a student who’s interested in working with law enforcement and adjudicated youth,” said Walker. “I have another

student who’s really interested in becoming a child psychologist.”

In this sense, the course is highly exploratory and allowing for individualized pathways.

When the teacher cadet course begins in fall, students self-evaluate their own learning styles, defining themselves as learners. The course then moves into child development, which includes learning about cognitive, social/emotional and physical development. Next, students cover theories of development and educational psychology. 

They then explore barriers to learning such as disabilities and special education needs.

Finally, the teacher cadets learn about classroom management and lesson planning.

Field work is no small part of the process, either. Students’ direct observations of a full range of grades provide a window into real-world scenarios and set them up to declare where their interest lies by spring term.

“It’s a lot. It’s a whole meta-world of thinking that you’re doing,” said Walker.

Early this month, teacher cadets got the chance to experience a unique day of the year in education.

Global School Play Day, an event which encourages unstructured play time for schoolchildren, was celebrated in Cottage Grove on Feb. 5.

Teacher cadets were dispersed across the school district to help facilitate the event and observe educators and learners in action.

Returning to class, cadets debriefed each other as a group, describing what they saw and learned. One by one, students depicted scenarios of children engaging in various forms of freeplay, conflict resolution and even a little bit of chaos.

CGHS junior Delaney Abraham recalled her experience with kindergarteners.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had so many children climb on me,” she laughed.

The teacher cadets also observed how different staff members dealt with particular challenges, such as children who may have experienced trauma.

On reflection, the high school students cited leadership skills, professionalism, team-building, increased confidence and deeper trauma-informed sensitivities as the most salient takeaways of the program in general.

“I feel like in this class we learned what traumas people can go through,” said junior Raina Herzog. “People know that everyone has their own background and you have to be sensitive to that, but I feel like we’ve learned the signs … you can kind of gather information and be able to treat that situation sensitively, geared toward whatever they’ve experienced.”

In addition to other skills, junior Megan Browning felt that the program had helped establish her higher education trajectory.

“When I started this class, I had a general idea of what I wanted to be,” she said. “But after taking this class, I’ve definitely changed course. So I feel like I’m more prepared for after high school and my college education.”

Sentiments such as this are good tidings for Walker who, after 31 years as an educator, hopes to leave the industry to a new generation of educators.

“I’m invested in making sure that we have wonderful, capable people that can follow when I decide that I’m done,” she said.

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