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UTEP program aims to better prepare teachers throughout the region

Kindergarten Classroom (Credit: Diana Beltran).{p}{/p}
Kindergarten Classroom (Credit: Diana Beltran).

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A teacher shortage across the nation and in El Paso has been the norm for years now and the pandemic only made it worse.

A local program is working to develop more teachers while giving them more training time with students.

The Miner Teacher Residency program at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Vanessa Lake is the teacher and the student in a first-grade class at Tom Lea Elementary in northeast El Paso, she is part of the residency program.

"The residency is so much better than an internship because every teacher I have spoken with has said that one semester was not enough for them," said Lake.

The way it works: every resident is paired with a mentor teacher at Tom Lea Elementary it Ms. Baca.

"There are so many aspects to teaching that you don't learn in the classroom in college. She's able to gather that experience through this program. My job is to facilitate that and guide her through the program and help her be the best teacher she can be," says Baca.

The residency program is just over three years old, it started because of the need for qualified teachers in the area.

"Every school district was starting the year with vacancies. One of our largest school districts started with 150 vacancies a couple of years ago," said Stephanie Otero with the El Paso Community Foundation a partner in the program.

According to data from the Texas Education Agency, the state has seen a decrease of 27% in newly certified teachers.

The El Paso Independent School District says it currently has 150 teacher vacancies and Ysleta ISD has 42 vacancies.

Both districts are working to fill these vacancies, EPISD recently held a job fair to fill vacant slots.

"We also know that to fill vacancies districts were being forced to hire from low-quality online programs rather than high-quality programs through UTEP and Region 19," added Otero.

The traditional method of becoming a teacher is for a college student to spend 12 weeks inside a classroom, then they're sent into a classroom of their own after graduation.

The residency program takes a different approach.

"Because it's a year-long program, I feel like I have a lot more trial and error. I can try basically whatever I want in the classroom and see if it works," says Lake.

UTEP partners with several local school districts by providing resident teachers across the region.

The resident receives pay for their work, funding first comes from partner organizations such as the EPCF.

Gradually the districts are paying residents from their own budgets.

The end result: better-prepared instructors in classrooms.

"Our pie in the sky is that by 2030, 100% of the teachers in our district are trained in high-quality sustained residency models. That every classroom across our region is filled with certified teachers on day one of every school year," said Otero.

Leaders of the program hope to expand the program into more school districts in the coming years.

Currently, EPISD and SISD have sustained residency programs with several others in development.

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