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University of Texas El Paso targets teacher shortage

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Freda Ross

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(Texas News Service) It's estimated that nearly half of all schools in the country don't have enough teachers. To help change that, the University of Texas in El Paso offers a residency program to help ensure that first-time teachers succeed.

The "Miner Teacher Residency" gives students in the College of Education an opportunity to work in elementary and middle schools alongside working teachers.

Clifton Tanabe, dean of the UTEP College of Education, was part of a recent national roundtable discussion on ways to solve the teacher shortage, and said the program gives future educators the skills they need to be ready for their first day of class.

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"A third grader in a first-year teacher's classroom is only going to get to do third grade once, but that teacher will be able to do the third grade again and again," he explained. "So, we want them ready for that first group of third graders that they take on."

Tanabe added nearly half of the students enrolled in the program are first-generation college students and 70 percent are bilingual. He adds that mirrors the population of students in the public school system in El Paso, where 90 percent of the students are Hispanic. Most of the new teachers remain in the area, he said.

Many school districts have been forced to leave positions open, or fill them with teachers who are not fully certified. Some rural Texas districts have gone to a four-day school week. And some teachers are leaving the profession, citing increased workloads, low pay and concerns about safety.

According to Tanabe, teacher retention is directly related to being successful in the first two years on the job - and the UT program addresses this.

"So, folks who graduate from our residency model in their first and second years in teaching are set up with an instructional coach who's from the university, from the College of Education, to work with them on individualized instructional improvement," he continued.

The residency program is in its sixth year. It currently has 62 teachers working in five different school districts in the El Paso area.