Spotlight: Teacher Development Acad.

Inside Atlantis Charter High School, students are charting pathways to college and career success. They are learning skills that are highly sought-after in today’s workforce.

Juniors and seniors at Atlantis study in one of five innovative Career Academies: STEM; Health, Med-Tech and Sports Medicine; Arts, Culture & Design; Business and Entrepreneurship; and Teacher Development.

The last one may come as a surprise, but it should not.

The world will always need great teachers, but this country is facing a critical teacher shortage.

“Unfortunately, in many parts of the country there isn’t a strong financial incentive to become a teacher. Young people realize they can make more money working in other areas, such as STEM or healthcare. Luckily, here in Massachusetts that’s not the case. Teachers in the Commonwealth have the ability to make a very decent living, while making a lasting impact on the lives of their students,” said Dr. Gail Berman, co-director of the Atlantis Career Academies and adjunct instructor for the Teacher Development Academy. “That’s why we’re making a concerted effort to attract more young people to the classroom.”

The demand for new teachers is a real and growing problem.  According to a study by the Learning Policy Institute, there was a 35% drop in the number of teacher education enrollments between 2009 and 2014. That worked out to a decrease of about 240,000 new teaching professionals in just a short five-year time span. And experts predict the problem could get worse in the future.

Sarena Comas, ACS Class of 2018, takes part in her teaching internship in Justine Scott’s class last spring. Sarena now attends Bridgewater State.

Atlantis’s Teacher Development Academy is a deliberate response to help address the problem before it gets worse. The mission is to create a pipeline of qualified teachers by exposing students to the rewards of the profession before they even set foot on a college campus.

“In some cases, teaching is just not on students’ radar – it’s not like science and engineering. So, we created a program to help forge a pathway for young people to find success in an education focused career. There’s so much this field has to offer and by educating students on the benefits of teaching – we might also help increase the supply,” said Berman.

Starting junior year, students at Atlantis have the opportunity to learn about teaching from a historical perspective as well as contemporary issues in education, such as standardized testing vs. masterized learning, project-based and experiential learning, and other forward-thinking approaches to education.

Senior year, students learn how to create lesson plans and about classroom management. The class culminates with a spring internship. Students will work side-by-side with teachers in the elementary school to see what it’s like to be a teacher.

The Class of 2018 was the first to experience the new internship program.

“It was a valuable experience for everyone involved – for myself, my students, and especially my student intern,” said Justine Scott, one of the cooperating teachers in the elementary school. “The intern worked with my students in small groups on a non-fiction book. She was part of the project from start to finish and was able to see how different levels of support is provided to different students based on their needs. She really helped the kids become more proficient in their writing.”

Nathan Botehlo, Class of 2019, presents his career “parachute” plan in class with assistance from classmate Alex Ortiz last year.

Senior Nathan Botelho is looking forward to his internship in the spring. He says he has always seen a classroom through the eyes of a student, and he is excited to see what it is like to be on the other side of the desk.

Botelho wants to become a high school history teacher. He hopes the Teacher Development Academy will help him realize his dream.

“I think the students in the Teacher Development Academy will be a mile ahead when we get to college,” Botelho said. “As high school seniors, we are doing graduate work with a college professor who has done this since the 1960s.”

Several students who graduated from the academy last year went to college with thoughts of becoming a teacher. Emily Pleiss and Michaela Garrity, both from Fall River, are studying at UMass Amherst this fall. Sarena Comas, also from Fall River, is at Bridgewater State. Berman is hoping to see even more students from this year’s class follow suit.

“Teaching is not going away anytime soon,” Berman said. “Considering the continued demand for new teachers, early exposure to a career in teaching is more important today than ever.”

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