Miami Dade College expands high school ‘teaching academies’ to address teacher shortage

WLRN | By Kate Payne | July 11, 2023

One of the biggest challenges facing public education is there aren’t enough people willing to become teachers. Across the country, teacher training programs are shrinking or closing their doors entirely. But Miami Dade College is working on combatting this problem through a collaboration with the Miami-Dade school district.

Beginning in the fall of 2023, students at 51 public high schools across the county will be able to enroll in “teaching academies” — enabling them to take college dual enrollment classes towards earning a teaching degree while completing their high school diplomas.

“Every society, for it to be successful, needs to be anchored on education,” said MDC Dean of Education Carmen Concepción. “My hope is that we continue to revive that passion for teaching and learning in our high school students. We need to change, as a society, how we look at the teaching profession.”

According to a 2023 survey of teachers nationwide conducted by Merrimack College, just one in five teachers feel “very satisfied” with their job and one-third say they are very or fairly likely to leave the profession in the next two years.

Robert Shockley, chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Research Methodology at Florida Atlantic University, told WLRN that the teacher shortage is “a serious public policy issue” and “the defining issue of our time.”

Heading into the 2023-2034 school year, the Florida Department of Education has estimated there will be nearly 9,000 teacher vacancies around the state, with the highest need in the areas of Exceptional Student Education, English, Reading and English for Speakers of Other Languages.

WLRN education reporter Kate Payne spoke with Concepción about the need for the new dual enrollment program and what she hopes for students — and the community — to get out of it.

The following is an excerpt of their conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

CONCEPCIÓN: This is an exciting opportunity … our goal is to continue to elevate the teaching profession, specifically for those students that early on — just like me — know that all they want to do is teach.”

So when students transition from middle school to high school, they choose an academy. Those students that choose a teaching academy would be eligible to take specific dual enrollment courses at their home campus.

Our goal is for that student that starts in the ninth grade to graduate high school with their high school diploma, their AA or AS and then come straight into the bachelors program, here at Miami Dade College.

WLRN: What kinds of degrees or degree pathways can students be working on?

So we have four different pathways. Early childhood education, that’s one of the pathways. The other three pathways are secondary biology, secondary math, and exceptional student education.

Are those areas where we’re seeing the most need in the district?

Absolutely. Specifically, exceptional student education. And not only is it that there’s a need across the community, but when you look, for example, at a student that graduates with a degree in exceptional student education, they’re certified to teach exceptional student education from kindergarten to the 12th grade. They also graduate with an endorsement to teach reading, which is a need nationwide. So then they’re very marketable.

In the early childhood education program, they also graduate with an endorsement in ESOL and an endorsement in reading. So we are meeting the needs of every student in our community.

This is not the first partnership that MDC and the Miami-Dade school district have had. Why is it so important to have these partnerships? And what do you hope comes out of this?

We know that there’s a need nationwide. We looked at the statistics. Back at the beginning of the year, there were more than 5,000 vacancies across the state of Florida.

My goal is to continue to develop the best teachers for our community, but to start early … I think that by starting early when students are transitioning from middle school to high school, if we work on it together as a community, we can achieve that goal.

We know there are a lot of reasons why people don’t want to go into the classroom – high stakes testing, low pay, the political involvement we’re seeing in curriculum, and even the threat of gun violence. What is your pitch to high schoolers now of why they should go into the classroom?

So I think that high schoolers should go into the classroom because they have an opportunity to make a difference that they wouldn’t have in any other profession. The high stakes testing, the political arena, the violence, it’s always been … maybe not to the level where it is today … but my best advice to anyone considering teaching, it’s that there are things that are going to be out of our control. But when you’re in the classroom, you’re in control of the relationships that you build with those students. So if you’re passionate about teaching and making an impact, this is the profession for you.

On the political question, teachers are feeling this pressure of recent state restrictions on how to deal with certain issues like identity, history, race. And we saw recently a Miami-Dade school pulled some books out of an elementary section of its library after a parent claimed they’re indoctrinating kids. How is MDC preparing folks going into the classroom to navigate these pressures?

I think that our students have great relationships with our faculty. These are open discussions that are had when our students have questions, concerns.

When I talk to students, I always share my experience as a beginning teacher back in 1993 with my mentor teacher. Questions that I had, concerns that I had, always bringing them up to your mentor teacher, to your faculty member. So they serve to navigate those difficult conversations with the parents, with the students and with the school community.

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