Educators Rising Looks to Fill the Teacher Shortage [Podcast]

Introduction

Recruit them while they’re young. That’s the strategy of organizations like teacher academies and Educators Rising—they generate excitement and interest among High Schoolers to enter the teaching profession. 

So as the country faces a crippling teacher shortage, many teacher education programs are partnering with teacher academies or building similar programs as a means of recruitment. 

But can teacher academies help solve the current teacher shortage? 

That’s just one of the important questions that our guest, Lennon Audrain, is currently researching. In my interview with Lennin, he shares his own personal experience and research into teacher academies.  

I know you’ll enjoy this episode—Lennon has so energy and enthusiasm that he’s a delight to listen to. So let’s jump right into my interview with Lennon Audrain.

Educators Rising and Lennon Audrain

Lennon Audrain, welcome to The Teacher Education Podcast. How are you? (01:01)

educators rising

Lennon Audrain: I’m good. How are you? (01:04)

I’m doing well. Thank you. Now I know that you’re a Latin and Spanish teacher at Brookline High School in Massachusetts, but you’re also heavily involved in teacher academies. For those who aren’t as familiar with the term teacher academies, can you tell us a little bit about what they do and how they exist today? (01:06)

Lennon Audrain: Yeah. So teacher academies actually have a super long history in the United States. So they’re over 70 years old. The first was started in Elkhart public schools in Indianapolis in Indiana. And so when we’re thinking about what a teacher academy is, it’s basically a high school course for students who are interested in entering the teaching profession. And so I consider two types of courses to be teacher academy courses. So a lot of early childhood education courses, because they’re looking to develop early childhood education practitioners are one of the teacher academy courses. And the other is designed for teaching students how to be a K-12 teacher and generating in both of these spaces, the early childhood education class and the K-12 teacher academy class, generating high school student interests through learning about the theory of teaching and the most important part that students love is the clinical experience factor. So they actually go out into the field and they interact with students, they deliver lessons, they observe. And so the goal of the teacher academy is really to generate student interest starting in high school for students who want to be teachers. (01:23)

And it sounds like you have a lot of experience because you are the national student president for Educators Rising, and it sounds like it’s associated with teacher academies. So what drew you to working with pre-collegiate teacher candidates? (02:29)

Lennon Audrain: Yeah. I think that term is new pre-collegiate teacher candidates, it’s something that we’ve been struggling to codify. (02:44)

Do you want to say it 10 times? (02:54)

Lennon Audrain: Definitely. Oh, I will be. And cite me and Jody Googins in it because we’re really trying to figure out what teacher academies mean and what that looks like. And so in terms of developing pre-collegiate, pre-service teachers with Educators Rising, it has this long-standing history with Future Teachers of America which started in 1936. And so over the years, it’s evolved. It was Future Educators Association just a few years ago. And basically it’s this inter-curricular component. It’s like a club component to the teacher academy. So whatever they learn in their teacher prep teacher academy programs, they go and they can apply in Educators Rising conference settings. And so they go and they meet once a year. There are teaching competitions that students do. I always like to think of it as competitive teaching and each state has their own organization for Educators Rising. And the goal is to just develop this pre-professional network that students can engage in that also links up with Phi Delta Kappa international for practitioners. And so the goal is to create this really nicely put together continuum. (02:57)

The goal of programs like @EducatorsRising is to develop a pre-professional network and create a nicely put together continuum. —Lennon Audrain Click To Tweet

Are Teacher Academies Helping the Teacher Shortage?

What’s been the best experience that you’ve had as you’ve been working as the president… Well, not even as the president, but just with students over the years? (04:05)

Lennon Audrain: Yeah. I love particularly with Ed Rising, I think I just love meeting at this conference the other students who are so interested in high school and teaching and they know that’s what they want to do. And so for me, listening to them and their stories has been amazing. And as much as I’ve been listening to their stories, I went across the country and I talked about the power of teacher academies, the power of Educators Rising. One of the things that I’ve stopped and really been critical of is are these even working? (04:12)

And then there’s this big question about whether teacher academies actually do what they claim to do. And so we have a thousand students that come to this conference that are definitely interested in teaching, but we know in the United States, we have about 150,000 students in some form of a teacher academy. Now we know if we have 150,000 students each year, we shouldn’t have a teacher shortage and our prep programs and the collegiate level should be just chock full of these passionate teacher candidates. (04:41)

There's this big question about whether teacher academies actually do what they claim to do. —Lennon Audrain Click To Tweet

Well, this actually leads perfectly into my next question, because I’m really excited about your research because you’re currently a research assistant at Harvard Graduate School of Education. And I know your research would resonate with our audience because as I’ve interviewed teacher preparation professionals all around the country, inevitably we talk about the teacher shortage. And when I ask them what they’re doing, a popular answer is something like a teacher academy program. And so my question is, do you think teacher academies can play a major role in the battle against the teacher shortage? (05:11)

Lennon Audrain: I hate to have been so cynical with your last question, I was like what do you love about teacher academies? And like the stories, but, and so… definitely because I was like, “Oh, I’ve been leading in with that a lot lately.” Because I mean, I’m a great example of someone who was in a teacher academy who did Ed Rising, who’s now a teacher. But the reality is that that’s not true for a majority of our education and training programs that fall into the career technical education umbrella. And so it’s difficult. We know that in Indianapolis public schools, which was the second district to start teacher academies in the 1950s, their goal was to alleviate the impending teacher shortage that they saw. But we know that teacher academies have since grown and that isn’t necessarily the case. And so my research at Harvard, I work with Heather Hill and I really look at measurements of teacher effectiveness. (05:45)

So I’m developing a database with a couple of other research assistants for The Annenberg Institute. And we’re looking at pulling together different observation protocols, different things. And while I’ve been doing that, I’ve been thinking, how do we evaluate these teacher academies to see if they’re really working or not? And there are a couple ways that you can take this. So the first thing you can take it, is you can say, are pre-collegiate pre-service teachers actually entering colleges of education? So that’s one research question. How many of them each year are actually entering colleges of education? (06:38)

The second question that piggybacks off of that is do pre-collegiate pre-service teachers end up becoming teachers? And all of this to say is that we struggle at colleges of education and in higher ed in general to collect longitudinal data about where people end up. And when we do, we’re always usually asking for money with that as well. (07:10)

So it’s hard to get people to pick up the phone and answer questions. And so those two questions for me, I wrestle with. Because I know that our workforce is inevitably changing. The face of what it means to be a teacher and how teachers work together is changing so drastically. And so when I think about those two questions, I think about it in the context of the future of the education workforce. So really thinking about, do teacher academies represent what the future of the teaching profession will look like? Or does it represent what it looked like in the past? (07:28)

I know that our workforce is inevitably changing. The face of what it means to be a teacher and how teachers work together is changing so drastically. —Lennon Audrain Click To Tweet

So what I’ve found through my historical research has mostly been that what they did in the 1950s, they’re doing now. So there’s nothing new in terms of their observations and other things that they’ve been engaging in, that they really haven’t grown very much in terms of what they actually do in the teacher academy. (07:59)

3 Ways to Modernize Teacher Academies

Yeah, because I was actually reading… You were good enough to send me your current draft. And in the draft, you argue, you say, “We need to form a new version for teacher academies, one that’s long overdue.” Specifically, you’re talking about how we’ve been doing the same things for 50, 70 years now. What are the things that need to change? What is long overdue for teacher academies? (08:19)

Lennon Audrain: I think we… And the chapter of that is entitled Beyond Teaching Teddy Bears for a couple of reasons. And so the first for me is that teaching… Everyone has their cushy teaching story and their sentimental teaching story. And that is so important because it’s the thing you return to when you need your motivation. But when we think about what it means to be a teacher, and it means to engage in clinical practice, to engage in a profession, that’s what I’m really interested in looking at. (08:42)

And so the first thing that I really look at is thinking about Marilyn Cochran-Smith’s inquiry stance. So how do you get students thinking about what inquiry stance means? And then the second is using Pam Grossman’s framework for core practices. So we know that teachers need time to practice teaching and so giving them representations, time to decompose teaching practice, and attempts to approximate it, whether that be rehearsals or in clinical experiences are super important as well. (09:06)

The last that I really draw from is new research that’s coming out of Arizona State University and their Mary Lou Fulton teacher’s college that talks about what it means to be on a team of educators and the different roles that individuals take up and assume. And what does it mean to put a team of teachers in a classroom that can serve all the needs of learners, whether that being one teacher or one classroom model. And so for me, it really is using Marilyn Cochran-Smith’s inquiry stance to get students reflecting on what they experienced to propel their future practice, using Pam Grossman’s framework of her core practices to really think about what it means to get students engaged in the act of teaching, and then using Arizona State University’s framework for thinking about what it means to get students on teams of teachers. (09:33)

3 Ways to Modernize Teacher Academies Click To Tweet

And so my goal inevitably with this is that we have this potential to start teacher training in high school. Teacher education can start in high school, and that leaves room for so much that we could do at the university level. And whatever field or philosophy of teacher education you come from, all of those things can make a good teacher and can leave room in your program for other things. (10:19)

And so for me, it’s really thinking about not necessarily the outcomes of it, because as much as the outcomes… If all 150,000 students became teachers every year, which isn’t true because some of those are freshmen, some of those are seniors, that would be great and amazing. But we also know the landscape of teacher education and teaching is changing. So for me, it’s thinking about how do you design a Teacher Academy that responds to student needs, gets them engaged, and then one that also for students that don’t enter teaching redefines their perception. When they think about talking about clinical practice, when we talk about actual teaching practice, how might that change what students perceive about the profession and how might that make them advocates in the future, regardless of them becoming teachers or not. So that’s really what I’m looking at. (10:42)

Clinical Practice and Pre-Collegiate Teacher Candidates

It sounds like you’re saying that there isn’t very much clinical practice right now existing. Is that true then? (12:00)

Lennon Audrain: I wouldn’t argue that. I wouldn’t put a generalized statement over that, but what I would say is that what I think what we perceive to have been clinical practice in the teacher academy is not necessarily clinical practice. And it comes from a lot of people’s ideas of whether or not high school students are ready for this. I just got this question the other day. Are high school students even ready for clinical practice? But in the history of teacher education, I mean high schools used to be the place where teachers were trained. It wasn’t even… And so for me, it was like, no, this is absolutely the place. And whether you start clinical practice in May of a senior’s graduating year or two months when they enter university, I mean that’s not very much time in between. And so for me, it’s the earlier the better. (12:05)

And I do think high school students are totally ready for clinical practice. I just think sometimes the things we consider in the teacher academy to be clinical practice are not. Things like bulletin board decorating, things like grading papers. We know that there is definitely this interplay between teacher thought and teacher action that Sarah Cavanaugh at the University of Pennsylvania talks about what teacher academy students are absolutely capable of. (12:55)

Partnering with Teacher Prep Programs

And as teacher academies are becoming more and more popular, especially as we’re having this teacher shortage and higher ed is looking to them as possibly a way of recruiting new people for their programs, what do you think should be the right relationship between higher ed teacher prep programs and teacher academies? How should they interact with each other? What would be ideal from what you’ve seen? (13:17)

Lennon Audrain: There is, and the teacher academy is so uniquely positioned, I mean it exists within a school district, but it also plays into the pipeline of teachers in colleges of education, but it also plays long term. And you’ll see this argument a lot, but again, the research is slim on the effectiveness of these teacher academy programs on… Actually as students returning, but grow-your-own programs is the term that a lot of people use for teacher academies. Sometimes because the interplay is that they go to colleges of education and they end up returning to the districts from which they came. (13:41)

And so for thinking about universities, I think about the potential for grow-your-own partnerships to really be strengthened. The University of Central Florida is doing some great things. Marni Kay just started three teacher academies down there. If you look at the University of Colorado, you have Margarita Bianco doing great things with social justice. (14:16)

So I think that there’s this unique stakeholder partnership that exists because for the colleges of education, they have the potential to be looking at what a teacher academy does, what potential students who walk out of it are able to do, and how they might adjust their longitudinal teacher education program to accommodate so that they have more room for other activities, other classes. (14:36)

And so for me, in particular, I think about the recognition of universities knowing the texture of their communities and knowing what it means to be a practitioner within those local communities because they send their student teachers out there. And starting to think about what are the pieces of that, that we can scale down to the teacher academy level in terms of clinical practice. So thinking about are there certain practices that we want students to really be keen in observing, starting while they’re in high school, whether that be culturally responsive, critical race theory, all of these different vital aspects, to the social constructs of teacher education or whether it’s we realize that our math elementary education program struggles. Let’s see if we can start in teacher academies clinical practice around math education for elementary ed majors. (14:56)

So there are just lots of pieces that universities can scale down. I think in terms of offering help to teacher academy instructors in terms of curriculum and assessments that really would strengthen the local community and this concept of grow-your-own teachers, which we, again, we don’t know if it works or not, but if anything, it’s worth giving it a try. (15:47)

There are lots of pieces that universities can scale down in order to help teacher academy instructors. —Lennon Audrain Click To Tweet

So if we have listeners who are in higher education programs, they’re listening to this, they’re like, I actually am really interested in this. What would be three pieces of advice that you would give them so they can start working with their local teacher academy or your grow-your-own, as you were saying, programs? (16:07)

Lennon Audrain: Yeah, we are launching… I’m working with Jody Googins at Miami University and we’re launching something called the Teacher Academy Consortium, which is basically a place where you can go to learn about how to start a teacher academy and how to run one. So it would be one to check out the Teacher Academy Consortium. The second I think would be really to feel out what your district needs and what your district’s resources are. (16:23)

It’s difficult for more low-income districts to offer a teacher academy because it means taking away part of a position from a teacher. And so really feeling out whether that means you need to send a university-based educator to go teach this teacher academy in a district, and the university might be responsible for paying for that. Or whether that means figuring out where grants can fit into this. There are lots of grants out there for this type of work. Again, it is a career and technical education course in some places. So the second thing would be to really talk with districts about what resources are available for this Teacher Academy. (16:46)

And the third would be to go check some of them out. So I would say, go and type in teacher academy to Google and you’ll find the ones that are closest to you. I think going to observe them and seeing it in action solidifies people’s understanding of what it is to be a teacher academy and for people to see that happening and that work happening really makes this work meaningful. (17:24)

And so Teacher Academy Consortium, talking with your local district to see what their resources are, and then working with districts to find resources if they need it, and then going and looking at really high-quality teacher academies as well. (17:45)

3 Ways to Start Working With Your Local Teacher Academy Click To Tweet

Is there a URL for the Teacher Consortium that they should go to? Do you want to shout it out for us? (17:57)

Lennon Audrain: Yeah, its teacheracademyconsortium.com. (18:03)

Okay, so if they’re interested, that’s where they should go. Hopefully, you get a lot of hits now on this website. (18:07)

The Magic Wand Question

Now we like to ask this question for all of our guests. And so it’s if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about teacher academies in the US, what would it be? (18:14)

Lennon Audrain: Yeah. If I could change one thing about teacher academies, it would be the ability… I would love an organization that could collect data about teacher academies. I think we need to understand more than just these anecdotal stories and these one-offs of teachers that come back to return to Phoenix Union High School district, but what happened to the other 30 people that were in that teacher academy as well? So for me, it would be really being able to understand the story from the qualitative and the quantitative perspective about teacher academies. (18:24)

If I could wave a magic wand, I would be able to understand the story from the qualitative and the quantitative perspective about teacher academies. —Lennon Audrain Click To Tweet

And do you know anyone that’s going to be doing that research? Are you looking to do that research? (18:54)

Lennon Audrain: That’s what I’m looking to do in my doctoral program. Hopefully, my potential doctoral schools are listening, that that’s what I’m looking to do is to collect that quantitative data so we can really understand what that story looks like holistically. (18:58)

Lightning Round

Perfect. Okay. And at the end of each of our podcasts, we do a lightning round with our guests and we ask a series of questions, and you just need to respond with a one-word or one-sentence answer. Are you ready? (19:13)

Lennon Audrain: Yes, I am. (19:26)

Okay. Last book that you read and enjoyed? (19:27)

Lennon Audrain: Preparing America’s Teachers by Fraser. (19:31)

Favorite conference to attend? (19:35)

Lennon Audrain: Educators Rising, obviously. (19:37)

Your favorite movie? (19:40)

Lennon Audrain: My favorite movie? Oh my gosh. Recently, it’s been Frozen 2. (19:42)

Your go-to resource for any teacher academy related issue? (19:48)

Lennon Audrain: Twitter. (19:52)

Really? (19:54)

Lennon Audrain: Yeah. Connecting with educators on Twitter is really where I’ve been looking at… My research actually that I’ve been doing has been thinking about how we talk about clinical practice on Twitter. (19:55)

Fantastic. And the next destination for your travel bucket list? (20:04)

Lennon Audrain: Oh, definitely Florida. I want to take my boyfriend to Harry Potter World in Universal Studios. So yeah, that’s the next one on my bucket list. (20:08)

That sounds fantastic. I haven’t been yet. I want to go. Well, Lennon Audrain, thank you for joining us on the teacher education podcast. We appreciate you taking the time and sharing your experience and research that you’ve been doing about teacher academies. And so we can get the word out and start seeing this as a more developed resource for higher education and local communities. So I look forward to seeing your publication forthcoming I’m hoping. (20:19)

Lennon Audrain: Yeah. Thank you so much. Yeah, I will. And I will let you know when it comes out. (20:47)

Conclusion

That’s it for today. Don’t forget to subscribe. If you like what you heard, please rate and review this podcast to help others find us. The teacher education podcast is brought to you by GoReact. This episode was hosted by me, Hillary Gamblin, and produced by Danielle Burt, Joseph Winter, and Jordan Harris. Chad Jardine is our executive producer. Guests on the podcast are expressing personal opinions for informational purposes only. They’re not acting as official representatives for their universities or organizations. (20:51)

educators rising

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