Addressing Teacher Preparation and Retention in Rural Colorado
Colorado is one of many states dealing with the effects of an educator shortage. This challenge is especially prevalent in our rural communities, and, encouragingly, the state legislature this year took action, passing legislation and committing state dollars to better address this important issue.
In one of the bills passed this session, Senate Bill 18-085 (Financial Incentives for Education in Rural Areas), the legislature focused on recruitment and retention of educators in our rural communities. An update to previous legislation, SB 18-085 increases the number of stipends available to rural educators who commit to teaching in a rural district for a minimum of 3 years and expands the opportunity to apply for these stipends to individuals enrolled in alternative licensure programs, such as PEBC’s Boettcher Teacher Residency.
I’ve spent the past 2.5 years traveling throughout Colorado, supporting the work of BTR’s rural cohorts and meeting individuals in all corners of the state who are interested in earning their teacher’s license. The most common challenge that I hear from prospective educators in rural Colorado is around affordability, as it can be very difficult to go a year without a salary while participating in a traditional teacher residency model such as BTR, creating barriers to entry. And for those participants in BTR who are teachers of record in their districts – working full-time as a teacher while enrolled in our alternative licensure program – many of these individuals are career changers who are taking a pay cut to pursue a dream of becoming an educator, leaving more lucrative careers behind.
SB 18-085 takes steps to address this affordability issue to both attract and retain educators in rural communities by providing these stipends for those who are looking to enter the profession, as well as current educators who are interested in improving their practice through professional development or earning concurrent enrollment certification. Teachers, like all professionals, deserve opportunities to continue to learn and grow, and this legislation will help make that personal development more affordable for educators in rural settings.
As alternative licensure programs continue to gain popularity, this legislation will help individuals interested in teaching in their local community be able to earn the skills necessary to enter the classroom. Governor John Hickenlooper signed SB 18-085 in Durango on May 24th of this year, and representatives from PEBC (myself included) attended the ceremony. As BTR’s Field Manager, Sherri Maxwell, recounted to the Durango Herald, “We’re getting local people to fill positions in our local schools.” As a special treat, we were invited to stand with community members and legislators from the area as the Governor signed the bill into law – and after signing, the governor handed a pen he used to sign the legislation to one of our recent graduates, Sarah Pettis, an elementary school teacher in Cortez!
Since 2014, when the Boettcher Teacher Residency began training future educators in rural settings, we have helped 145 individuals in rural Colorado earn their teachers license through our alternative licensure program, and we look forward to continuing this important work in the future.