‘Lifesaving’ stipend puts more teachers in classrooms
As Colorado faces a critical shortage of educators, the state is paying student teachers, creating more viable career paths.
The statistics are grim: Eighty-five percent of state educators say the shortage of classroom teachers is worse than in previous years, and 90% say the same about support staff. Sixty percent of teachers say they are considering leaving the profession soon. All of these numbers emerged from a 2022 survey conducted by the Colorado Education Association.
Their sentiments aren’t off the mark, either. More than 3,300 teaching positions in Colorado were vacant at the end of the last school year. If there’s an upside to the depressing statistics, however, it’s that Colorado’s legislature recognizes that the teaching profession is in trouble and is working to create a pipeline of new educators. Last year, lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis approved the Removing Barriers to Educator Preparation bill, which created a student-educator stipend program.
Unlike other apprenticeships — in cooking, cosmetology, even tattooing — student teachers weren’t paid during their student-teaching residencies. The new program now pays them $11,000 for 16-week residencies and $22,000 for 32-week residencies. And the impact is already apparent at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where more than 80 Education students are reaping the benefits.
Support for future teachers
Amber Osborn, who plans to graduate in May, is one of them. She received a $22,000 stipend spread out over her final two semesters and said she might not have remained in the program without it.
“It was definitely a question as to whether or not I could work full-time student-teaching plus another job in order to get by,” she said. “Teaching drains you, and I can’t imagine going to (another) job after a full day.”
Osborn is the daughter of a teacher and didn’t grow up thinking she would pursue the same path. But after working as a paraeducator in her mother’s school, she changed course. Now, she’s student-teaching in her hometown of Aurora. “I love my community here, and it’s nice to have the opportunity to teach here,” she said. “I’m incredibly thankful for the stipend allowing me to do it.”
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Similarly, James VanHatten, a 50-year-old Army veteran and career information technology professional, said the stipend made it possible for him to switch careers.
“I became disillusioned with corporate life and realized I needed a job where I could make a difference,” he said. “I started substitute-teaching and decided it was the right path for me.”
VanHatten is a single father, however, and the idea of student-teaching, raising a son and having no source of income made a teaching career appear out of reach. “I’m not sure how I would have finished my last semester without the stipend,” he said.
Having graduated in December, VanHatten is working as a long-term substitute with Littleton Public Schools, teaching middle school electives. He hopes for a permanent position next year. “I needed the stipend and took advantage of it,” he said. “It was a lifesaver.”
The MSU Denver impact
The School of Education at MSU Denver is the second-largest teacher-preparation program in the state, behind only the University of Northern Colorado. Dean Elizabeth Hinde, Ph.D., is well aware of the sobering realities of trying to become a teacher.
“When it comes to student-teaching, we’re asking these students to work three to five days a week without a source of income,” she said. “They just can’t do it.”
Hinde has heard from numerous students who have dropped out of the program for that reason. The stipend, however, is making a difference. She noted that 77 education students were eligible for the stipend last semester. With another bill coming up to expand eligibility, the school could have close to 90 students in the near future.
When surveyed about how they used the stipend, Hinde said, the top two responses were for rent and food. Some recipients said the stipend gave them the motivation to continue in the program.
The bill has the potential for another impact as well: diversifying a homogeneous teaching force. “The bill was specifically targeted to underrepresented populations,” Hinde said. “The financial barriers to first-generation students and students of color are significantly higher than their white counterparts.”
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Right now, the bill has funding for two years, mostly from the federal government. But education deans such as Hinde are working to make the funding permanent.
“We’re trying to make it part of the state budget so that it lasts forever,” she said. “This is putting more teachers in the classroom who otherwise would have quit. It is a game-changer for teaching.”
Osborn and VanHatten agree and can look ahead to full-time careers as educators in the state. They encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
“It’s about time there was a program like this,” said VanHatten. “If you qualify for the program, go for it.”