An alternative certification program that places teachers in classrooms is recruiting fellows for its second school year of operation.
Benton Brown, executive director of the Arkansas Teacher Corps, hopes to have as many as 60 fellows teaching in schools across the state, including 21 fellows selected to teach in nine school districts and charter schools this year and the addition of as many as 40 fellows for the 2014-15 school year. Fellows commit to teaching for three years.
“The purpose of the program is to go to the areas of the state that need it themost,” Brown said. “We look for individuals who have that kind of service mindset. They want to go where they’re going to have the largest impact.”
All applicants for the 2014-15 school year who apply by today will be considered, Brown said. Those who apply after today will be considered on an ongoing basis until all spots are filled.
The College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville started the Arkansas Teacher Corps a year ago as an alternative certification program for people who did not major in education to become teachers.The program requires fellows to have at least a bachelor’s degree, prefers candidates with at least a 3.0 grade-point average and tries to fit candidates with teaching positions that match their degree field, Brown said.
The college was interested in training and certifying candidates for math, science and other high-need subject areas to help school districts fill vacancies and eliminate the need for state certification waivers, said Gary Ritter, director of the Office of Education Policy within the college. Districts apply for waivers from the state when they fill vacancies with educators who are teaching a subject they are not certified to teach.
Steven Bonds, 39, sought a fulfilling profession when he applied for a position with the Arkansas Teacher Corps last year. Bonds had a bachelor’s degree in journalism from UA, was a reporter for about two years for the Northwest Arkansas Times and Benton County Daily Record and then spent about 10 years in sales positions and retail management, including for Gap Inc.
“I always was drawn back to education,” said Bonds, whose mother was a teacher. He also had one grandfather who served on a school board and another grandfather who was a former classroom observer for the Arkansas Department of Education. “It was almost like a calling. It was something I really wanted to do.”
When Bonds was in college, he started as a biology major and took math courses through Honors Calculus II.He had an aptitude for math, and when he applied to the Arkansas Teacher Corps, Brown asked him to consider a position teaching math at Clarendon High School. Bonds passed two exams required for teachers to be certified in math.
Bonds, who lives alone, took an Airstream camper to a lot about six blocks from the school in Clarendon, a city of 1,660 people about 70 miles east of Little Rock. He has since traded the camper for what he described as a cabin on wheels.
In his first semester as a teacher, tests administered by the district show that the number of students in Bonds’ geometry classes projected to be proficient on end-ofcourse exams has improved since the beginning of the year from 57.5 percent to 69 percent, he said.
He’s experienced some long days and sometimes lies awake at night thinking about how to improve his lesson plans. He hopes he instills in his students the ability to think.
“I want them to be able to analyze problems,” he said. “I want them to have the grit and determination to get through those problems. I think that’s going to help them in life more than anything.”
Arkansas Teachers Corps provides training, certification and support to prepare fellows who commit to spending three years teaching in schools, Brown said. They receive the salaries paid by the school districts and a $5,000 annual stipend from the program.
Eleven of the 21 fellows in schools this year are teaching math and science, Brown said. Other fellows are teaching English, social studies and the fine arts. In addition to Clarendon, fellows are teaching in Dermott, Forrest City, Hope, Prescott and Pulaski County school districts and in several charter schools, KIPP Delta, Premier High School in Little Rock and Quest Middle School in Pine Bluff.
Fellows placed in schools this year attended six weeks of training over the summer, where they spent half a day teaching summer school alongside an experienced teacher and attended lectures in the afternoons, Brown said. Most fellows this year were recent college graduates, but the program drew some candidates who sought a career change.
The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the UA Women’s Giving Circle provided grants to the UA Foundation for the development of the Arkansas Teacher Corps, Brown said.