New NC teacher of the year says dismantling the Teaching Fellows program one of biggest mistakes made in public education


2015 NC Teacher of the Year Keana Triplett
photo credit: NC Department of Public Instruction

Ashe County High School English teacher and newly minted North Carolina Teacher of the Year Keana Triplett is also a graduate of the highly praised yet now abolished NC Teaching Fellows program – and she says the program’s dismantling is one of the single biggest mistakes ever made in public education.

“The Teaching Fellows program has made that much of a difference in my career,” said Triplett in an interview with N.C. Policy Watch. “I would not be the teacher I am today were it not for the Teaching Fellows program.”

The North Carolina Teaching Fellows program launched in 1986 as a way to attract more North Carolinians to the profession of teaching and keep them in the state. Funded by taxpayers, the program offered education students four-year tuition scholarships in exchange for promising to teach in North Carolina for at least four years.

The program has been widely praised for creating a high quality teaching pool from which local school systems can draw upon, and its graduates tend to stay in the classroom and in North Carolina for a long time. Its positive results are held up high by many education policy experts and advocates who then point to the troubling news that North Carolina’s public university system saw a steep enrollment decline in the last four years in undergraduate and graduate teaching programs, amounting to a 27 percent drop from 2010 to 2014.

But lawmakers initiated the Teaching Fellows program’s demise a few years ago, and the last of its fellows will graduate this year. Funds for the program have been diverted to the controversial Teach for America program, which overall has a poorer record of retaining high quality teachers in North Carolina in the long term.

Triplett explained that the Teaching Fellows program, which allowed her to pursue her dream at Appalachian State University to become a teacher, also provided value that went far beyond the financial benefit— it also provided students with a clinical component to their education, a model that national experts say is critical to the improvement of teacher preparation programs.

As a Teaching Fellow, Triplett was afforded the opportunity to get inside a classroom beginning with her freshman year of undergrad—something most teacher education students don’t get to experience, she said.

“I watch beginning teachers struggle with classroom management, which is one of many things that can’t necessarily be taught in a university setting but is learned in the classroom—and I got to experience that before I ever got into a teaching position,” said Triplett.

For students studying to become secondary school educators, Triplett said that on-the-job training doesn’t typically happen until senior year of college.

“And by that point, it’s too late. If [high school] is not where [teacher education students] are supposed to be and that’s not what they enjoy, then they don’t know that until that’s too late. Because they can only discover that by being in the classroom,” said Triplett.

Triplett said she’s deeply disappointed that lawmakers have chosen to do away with the Teaching Fellows program.

“The Teaching Fellows program recruited students from every county in North Carolina who were passionate about becoming educators, and the program fostered in them a love of learning and a love of the profession — and that’s why so many of them are in the classroom today,” said Triplett.

“I think it’s one of the biggest mistakes that has ever been made in public education,” Triplett said.


  1. JAN

    April 9, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Keane Triplett makes so many solid points about becoming a teacher and her experiences through the NC Teaching Fellows Program. She is an example of the best in teaching and how the Teaching Fellows Program, through its design, helped her define her skills as well as come to understand the many subtleties of teaching that cannot be learned in a college classroom. She will be a wonderful ambassador of the best in teaching in North Carolina. I am very proud of her.

  2. Kelley Morris James

    April 9, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    I am a member of the first class of Teaching Fellows. This program allowed me the opportunity to pursue my lifelong dream of being a teacher. This year concludes my 24th year in education and my 2nd year as an elementary school principal. The last class of TFs approaching graduation includes a former 2nd grade student of mine. Our state no longer focuses on building a strong public education system. Instead, our legislature is focused on dismantling it.

  3. John Woody

    April 9, 2015 at 9:47 pm

    She was my 10th grade English teacher a great teacher and nice person and has definitely made me want to go into teaching as a job i want to do i wish i had the teaching fellows program i guess i’m a little late to the punch

  4. LayintheSmakDown

    April 10, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I am sure she is in favor of the program. Government funded free education for only four years of commitment, that is pretty rich and worth what…$50-100,000 in this day and age.

  5. RealityCheck

    April 10, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    Hey, LAYINTHESMAKDOWN: given that Teaching Fellows receive this “government funded free education for only four years of commitment”, you’d think we would leave in droves once that fourth year is in the books. However, 75% of us continue into the fifth year and beyond. How about some research?:

    Ms. Triplett has been teaching since 2005. I am also a Teaching Fellow and began teaching in 2005 as well. Do the math.

  6. Miss L

    April 11, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    To LAYINTHESMACKDOWN, as member of the last teaching fellows class I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about this program. We do not get 50-100,000 dollars. We get about 6,500 a year (sometimes more if offered by our individual schools), some of which is taken away to fund some of our activities. We had the opportunity to see schools across the state, and receive professional development as a state wide group twice a year both the summer before our junior and senior year of college. Many of us were volunteering in classrooms our freshman year and got the opportunity to work with students of all ages, not just the ones we thought we wanted to work with. We attended countless seminars each year (typically at least 2 or more a month). We volunteered in our community and learned more about the area that we would do our student teaching in. In some cases our internships lasted 2 or more years, compared to the barely 1 semester that most education students receive. We were taught how to improve instruction, manage our classrooms, and build the best relationships with our students before even getting in the classroom full time. In our education departments we lead among other students. We often volunteer to help invite others interested in education to come to our select university, or others we know they could thrive at just as well. We are much more prepared when going into the classroom than our colleagues and I can guarantee that students that reach their senior year of teaching fellows have a strong passion to be a teacher, because the rigor that is required to reach that level is no joke. It is not just a scholarship. It is a commitment–to our profession, to our state, and to our future students. By being a part of that program we commit to better ourselves to be the types of teachers that students, parents, administrators, lawmakers, and all who want their community to thrive NEED and WANT teaching in the classroom.

  7. Alan

    April 16, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Dear teachers,

    You must realize of course that LSD is a Civitas/JLF funded troll whose primary task is to comment here on a daily basis with some of the most bat-**** crazy commentary that has ever spewed out of the far-right in this state. Facts don’t matter to them, they never have. LSD and his ilk have been demonizing teachers, teacher assistants, and public education (guv’mint skools as they like to call them) in this state since the GOP took control.

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