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Kentucky educators eye 'Learn and Earn' program as state struggles to fill teaching positions

Josh James

School may be in session, but districts across the state continue to face teacher and staff shortages. Kentucky’s neighbor to the south is trying out a program, in the hopes of attracting more new talent to the classroom, and education leaders in the commonwealth are taking notice.

Kentucky Association of School Superintendents director Jim Flynn says, just because classes have started up, doesn’t mean districts aren’t still struggling to keep schools staffed. In fact, the shortage – amplified by the pandemic – remains a chief concern in schools across the state.

"Over half of superintendents have reported to me that they continue to have certified vacancies even today and are hiring record numbers of emergency certified staff to fill classroom positions."
Kentucky Association of School Superintendents Director Jim Flynn

Flynn and others are floating an idea that’s already in place in Tennessee, which they say could help create a pipeline of new teachers. It involves bridging the gap between student teachers and their established counterparts with apprenticeship programs by "moving from unpaid clinical observation and unpaid student teaching experiences to more paid internships and apprenticeships, think of more of a 'Learn and Earn'-type program for our pre-service teachers."

In Tennessee, the options are known as “Grow Your Own” programs, and are meant to give beginning teachers an experience with the profession that goes beyond the busywork-type tasks sometimes handed off to interns.

But one lawmaker, Rep. Tina Bojanowski – a teacher – worried aloud about placing yet another assignment on already overworked teachers who would act as mentors.

"We are swamped, and just an additional responsibility... I'm just not sure how that is offset," she added.

A representative from the Tennessee school system said the state is offering mentor teachers an extra stipend – though Bojanowski said even that doesn’t address the extra time needed to help shepherd a student teacher through the process.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.