Wyoming Union, UW
SHANNON BRODERICK/Boomerang photographer

The University of Wyoming’s Education Initiative aims to elevate UW’s College of Education to a status of “national preeminence” at a time when fewer and fewer young people show interest in becoming teachers.

The initiative’s director, Rebecca Watts, said a national program being launched in Wyoming for the first time will seek to give high school students a window into the life of a teacher and the education profession.

“Not just in Wyoming, but across the country, the number of high school students that are expressing interest in education careers over the past decade or 15 years has consistently decreased,” Watts said. “And we know that we need to re-energize our efforts to have students consider education careers and pursuing that after they get out of high school.”

Educators Rising is a national organization — with 45,000 members across the U.S. — that aims to help young people explore teaching. The Education Initiative hopes to set up local chapters in Wyoming school districts, with these chapters slated to oversee teaching a course in education or running an afterschool Educators Rising organization.

Through these chapters, high school students curious about careers in education will be invited to complete online modules and observe teaching across grades and subject areas within their district.

“It’s providing opportunities for early career preparation, just like FFA does for people that are interested in agriculture,” Watts said. “Educators Rising does this for students that have an interest in … really exploring what it feels like to be an educator.”

Becoming affiliated with the national Educators Rising and starting up local chapters represent phase one of 10 in the Education Initiative’s drive to radically alter the way Wyoming teachers are recruited, trained and set up for lifelong careers.

“The Educators Rising piece is the beginning,” Watts said. “It’s phase one. It’s a new thing … It’s our first time to step into this national organization and join the work that other states are doing to look at pre-professional experiences for prominent students.”

The 10th phase will consist of a four-year professional mentoring program, once a recent College of Education graduate is teaching in a Wyoming classroom.

“That is something very important being added on the front end, and something very important being added on the backend,” Watts said. “But in the middle, when they’re full-time engaged with the university, there’s changes there, too.”

During a student’s fourth year, for example, College of Education students will engage in a full-year residency in a Wyoming school, as opposed to the one semester or less student teachers have had before.

“The learning — the professional development that they do, how they learn to be a teacher, how they learn the content that they’re going to teach — will not be in a traditional course structure,” Watts said. “It will be in modules. They will have a lot more clinical and field experiences out in schools than historically they’ve had.”

The Education Initiative, formed by the UW Board of Trustees in 2014, is attempting to change the face of educator preparation in Wyoming. Its Enterprise for Elevating Educational Excellence — commonly called E4 — is the 10-phase program through which the initiative seeks “preeminence,” as measured by the readiness of teachers graduating from UW.

“So, it’s really, ‘Are those novice educators that are coming out of the program ready to hit the ground running when they get to a Wyoming classroom and support the learning of those students and bring them to lifelong success?’” Watts said.

To begin phase one, Watts added she hopes to have multiple Educators Rising chapters started in Wyoming school districts by 2019. The Education Initiative will cover stipends for Educators Rising advisers and provide funding for students who participate.

“We can only do this if we have great school district partners who will step forward and work with us on this,” Watts said.

UW announced the initiative’s affiliation with Educators Rising earlier this month. While Watts said several people had shown interest in starting a chapter, none were as yet confirmed.

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