In recognition of Apprenticeship Week, November 13-19, 2023, the Center for Higher Education Policy and Practice (CHEPP) is pleased to share Camden U’s story about how it came to offer New Jersey’s first federally recognized teacher apprenticeship. To help address the national teacher shortage, ‘grow-your-own teacher’ models help school districts identify talented aspiring educators, while also revealing inequities in the teacher certification process. Camden U and the Camden U Teacher Pathway initiative has carved out a unique space in this burgeoning field, blazing a trail for aspiring educators and creating a blueprint for school districts to organically grow certified teachers and build a leadership pipeline.
Established in 2021, Camden U followed in the footsteps of Degree Forward (Detroit) and Gateway U (Newark) as the third Trio New College Network site, bringing the flexibility of Southern New Hampshire University’s [SNHU] competency-based degree program to working adults in the city of Camden, New Jersey. Camden U seeks to not only help people finish college but pursue career pathways to economic mobility. The first career path at Camden U is the teacher pathway which supports aspiring educators as they earn a teaching credential. This pathway was launched in response to the teacher shortage crisis in Camden and the need for innovative approaches to fill empty classrooms across the city.
For decades, traditional educator preparation programs have seen a decline in overall interest and enrollment. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen by 30% over the last decade. For black and brown communities, the lack of interest in the teaching profession is more pronounced. In the State of Racial Educator Diversity report released by the US Department of Education, only 25% of all individuals enrolled in a traditional teacher preparation program identified as a person of color. And while New Jersey is ranked as one of the most diverse states in the country, with more than 60% of enrolled K-12 students being students of color, the teaching workforce remains over 80% white.
Diversity is our strength, both as a state and as a country at large, and we have a responsibility to ensure that our students are prepared to engage in a workforce that will look dramatically different from past generations. We have a responsibility to ensure that students can envision their own future success through the adults they encounter in their classrooms every day. When students are taught by adults from their own communities who look like them and with whom they have shared experiences they have a greater sense of belonging that strengthens their education and future endeavors. This understanding fuels ‘grow-your-own-teacher’ models like the one we have created in Camden.
In embarking on the journey to become New Jersey’s first federally registered teacher apprenticeship program, Camden U partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor for this unique federal training opportunity. Seeking to create wraparound support, Camden U has created a support framework for aspiring educators that spans application, enrollment, registration, as well as through college graduation and teacher certification. However, despite the state’s support, including the recent signing of a U.S. Department of Labor federal proclamation by Governor Murphy, there is an immense funding gap in the teacher preparation space for “alternate route” aspiring educators. Policymakers are still slowly catching on to the momentum of the “grow-your-own-teacher” movement, but the urgency of the teacher shortage crisis demands immediate action. As explained by Travis Elliott, an educator and Camden U alumnus, “there are so many people in this city that could follow my path, all they need is the blueprint, and Camden U has the blueprint for success for paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, and anyone else already working in a classroom that wants to earn a certification.”
Engineered as a “grow-your-own-teacher” initiative, Camden U identified talented paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, and other classroom support personnel as a renewable resource to fill classroom vacancies. In building the Camden U Teacher Apprenticeship, we worked closely with Kwame Floyd, Senior Consultant from Succinct Consulting. Floyd is also the visionary education advocate spearheading the movement to build the Teacher Apprenticeship Network, an organization that will partner with the U.S. Department of Labor to connect aspiring educators to federally funded apprenticeship training opportunities. As New Jersey’s first federally registered teacher apprenticeship program, Camden U and Gateway U in Newark in quick succession, have laid the groundwork for a network that Floyd envisions spanning throughout the state of NJ and beyond.
Travis Elliott, is a lifelong resident of the city and Camden High School alumnus, Travis found his niche as a paraprofessional at Cooper’s Poynt, before eventually connecting with Camden U for support in earning his certification. As a black male educator, Travis is already a rarity in the education world. According to recent statistics, black males make up less than 2% of the teaching force nationally. For Travis, it was merely an injection of logistical and financial support that propelled him to reach the teacher certification finish line in less than six months.
For candidates with a conferred degree, Camden U partners with Study.com for the Keys to the Classroom initiative, providing access to twelve months of free online PRAXIS prep support. Locally, Camden U is supported by Camden Education Fund, which as the anchor for the Teacher Pathway initiative, provided seed funding for Camden U to support candidates with individualized coaching and financial support to cover application fees, exam fees, and retakes. Thus, allowing aspiring educators to more smoothly navigate the prohibitively expensive and complex certification process in the state of New Jersey.
At Camden U, we are working to address a local teacher shortage by working hand-in-hand with education leaders in our community. We know our greatest strength is the people who live and work in Camden. Throughapprenticeship opportunities we can help adult learners get the tools they need to grow their career path ineducation while also investing in their communities by teaching the next generation of learners and leaders.