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Alcovy High takes on teacher shortage
Richard Cormier, teaching as a profession pathway instructor at Alcovy High School, addresses his class. (Duane Ford | The Covington News)

There is statewide concern about the teaching workforce. In future years, will Georgia have enough qualified teachers? It will if Alcovy High School and teaching as a profession instructor Richard Cormier have their way.

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE) recently released a report, “Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2017,” which summarized the reasons people are concerned about the teaching workforce. Georgia’s post-secondary teacher preparation programs experienced a 35 percent enrollment decline from 2010 to 2015. Thirteen percent of Georgia’s newly hired teachers quit after their first year and 44 percent leave during their first five years. These observations have led state officials to conducted high-level reviews and to make state policy changes aimed at addressing these issues.

But a more grassroots problem exists. GPEE wrote, “Most troubling, when asked if they would encourage one of their own students to consider teaching as a profession, over 66 percent of respondents [to a 2015 survey] said, it was unlikely or highly unlikely.”

Cormier added, “According to the Education Commission of the States, nationally only 12% of high school students are planning for a career in education and the trend continues to drop.” This is the problem Cormier and Alcovy High want to change, at least in their school.

Two years ago Alcovy High started the teaching as a profession career pathway within the school’s career, technical, and agricultural education (CTAE) program. It is the only such program within the Newton County School System (NCSS).

The Georgia Department of Education’s teaching as a profession pathway curriculum was adopted and Cormier was brought on board to teach it.

Cormier is passionate about teaching and his program. His personal motto is “teachers make everyone” and his plea to all who will listen is “please don’t dissuade children from becoming educators.”

The pathway includes three classes, which Cormier and his students refer to as “levels.” The level I class, examining the teaching profession, was first offered in 2015-2016. It includes an introduction to the various career paths within education, the history of U.S. public education, the professional practices and standards of teachers, as well as basic teaching methods and strategies.

This year, the level II class, contemporary issues in education, and a Future Georgia Educators Club were added.

Kia Kilgore, a junior at Alcovy High, serves as president for the student club and was recently named the NCSS education pathway 2017 student of the year. “There are currently about 12 members and our focus has been on talking to students who want to be teachers and exploring the profession,” she said. “It’s all about promoting teaching.”

In the level II class students learn about how national, state, and local morals, communities, and policies shape schools and the teaching profession. The level II students also are going into other NCSS schools to do observations on various aspects of teaching. “They have specific questions to answer and things that they need to observe,” said Cormier.  “We are working with the counselor at Heard-Mixon Elementary School to get my students certified as mentors. I envision a ‘big brother/big sister’ situation where they meet once a week with their mentees and help with whatever they need.”

A highlight for this year is a connection Cormier has developed with his alma mater, the School of Education at Northern Michigan University (NMU) located on the coast of Lake Superior in Marquette, Michigan.

At the recent CTAE Awards Ceremony, Tim Schmitt, NCSS CTAE director, highlighted this connection saying, “Earlier this year, Mr. Cormier came up with a crazy idea, to teleconference into his classroom a group of Northern Michigan college students. They discuss topics related to teaching. His students are learning to become certified teachers. The college students that he joined forces with are students themselves studying to be teachers. The interaction is really great. It’s amazing to see the dialog between the Alcovy students and the college students. That idea has evolved into something really special.”

In May, Cormier and a group of his students will travel to Marquette to see what a college-level school of education is all about.

Next year, Alcovy High and Cormier will add the level III class, teaching as a profession internship. Students in that class will, among other things, work in a classroom under the direction and mentorship of a certified teacher and engage in practice teaching.

In May, Alcovy High will have a “future educator signing day.” Modeled after athletic signing days, it will be a ceremony in which seniors declare their intent to attend a college-level teacher preparation program. Cormier expects six or seven seniors to participate.