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.