Most schools are entering the “season of completion” with numerous ceremonies celebrating the successes of their students — including the distribution of well-earned diplomas. In addition to the diploma, degree, or award recognizing past accomplishments, many schools are providing scholarship notices to students in recognition of the potential for future accomplishments.
While the student is the key ingredient, we need to recognize that teachers are a necessary part of this process, too.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise for me to tell you that Oklahoma has a teacher shortage. Our state has worked to remedy this challenge for years with strategies that range from changes in compensation to changes in the preparation or qualifications necessary to enter or remain in the profession.
Even with these efforts, it remains a challenge to maintain, much less grow, the number of educators in Oklahoma. An increasing number of great teachers reach retirement age or choose to leave the profession for other career opportunities. I don’t think we have tried rebranding the occupation of teacher as a “student learning engineer” at this point, but who knows what the future holds?
Rather than focus on the “whys” of the departures, I’d like to focus on what it takes to become a school teacher in grades K-12 in our state, and the role that Cameron University and other higher education institutions play. In Oklahoma, it all revolves around certification. A prospective teacher must graduate from a university with an approved teacher education program in the field the student wishes to be certified to teach. Cameron fits that description, as our program is approved at the state level by the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability and nationally by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
Cameron also is a participant in the Oklahoma Future Teacher Scholarship and Employment Incentive program — popularly called “Inspired to Teach.” This program offers scholarships and benefits to qualified students to encourage them to explore and ultimately to enter the teaching profession.
To qualify for this program, a student must graduate from an Oklahoma high school and take the following additional steps: be admitted to a state university with a teacher education program (or a community college that has an articulation agreement with a university’s teacher education program), major in a degree leading to a standard teaching certificate, maintain full-time status (in other words, enroll in at least 12 hours of coursework each semester), and maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA while making satisfactory progress toward a degree.
Students must also agree to complete the teacher education program, become licensed, and work in an Oklahoma public school for at least five consecutive years.
In return, the future teacher will receive a scholarship in the amount of $1,000 per year for three years, followed by $2,500 in their final year of college. After completing a degree, becoming licensed and getting hired by a school district, the new teacher could be awarded an incentive payment of $4,000 during each of the first five years of teaching.
Add that up. Someone could earn as much as $25,500 in scholarships and incentive funding over a nine-year period should they decide to pursue a career in education through “Inspired to Teach.”
Suppose you’re not fresh out of high school, but an adult learner who might have some college under your belt and is looking for a new career? As long as you are a graduate of an Oklahoma high school and meet the eligibility criteria, you are eligible for “Inspired to Teach.”
If you have an interest in becoming a teacher, or know someone who might be, Cameron University’s “Inspired to Teach” coordinator is Dr. Chris Keller, and he is more than willing to provide information and guide teaching candidates through the process.
Southwest Oklahoma has a dearth of teachers … and nurses … and mental health professionals, among others. Cameron University recognizes that need, which is why we offer courses and degrees that contribute toward workforce development.
A strong economy depends on a strong community. It’s our goal at Cameron University to help provide the fuel that creates strong communities in southwest Oklahoma so that everyone benefits.
John McArthur is president of Cameron University.