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.


Photo: NC Public School Forum

In case you missed last week’s Fitzsimon File on the ridiculous and partisan demise of the state teaching fellows program, click here to read it on the website of Raleigh’s News & Observer where it is — even at the height of March Madness — the #1 trending story.

Seems safe to say that the column has touched a nerve with North Carolinians. Now, if only the troubled souls running our state would pay attention for a change.


In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly eliminated the much-lauded NC Teaching Fellows program, which prepares and provides for students eager to enter into a teaching career in their home state. As the last of the Teaching Fellows are set to graduate this spring, the program’s sponsor has released a retrospective report on the program’s impact since its inception in 1986.

“With declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs at our state’s colleges and universities and increasing numbers of teachers retiring, moving to other states or leaving the classroom altogether, the loss of this highly effective teacher recruitment effort will certainly be felt across North Carolina” said Keith Poston, President and Executive Director, Public School Forum of North Carolina.

Since it began, the [North Carolina Teaching Fellows] has graduated 8,523 Teaching Fellows, 79 percent of whom were employed in the public school system at least one year after completing their initial four-year teaching service requirement and 64 percent still in the public school system six or more years after completing the scholarship program’s service requirement.

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WUNC’s Dave DeWitt has a good story this morning comparing Teach for America in NC to the 30-year old NC Teaching Fellows program.

The NC Teaching Fellows program awards $6,500/year scholarships for tuition at an in state college to North Carolina high school students interested in teaching. In return, students must teach for four years in North Carolina after graduation.

According to DeWitt:

The Teaching Fellows program has had a transformative effect on the profession in North Carolina: currently more than 4,000 teachers are Teaching Fellows. And more than three-quarters stay on as teachers past five years.

Despite these results, the Republican-controlled Legislature abruptly cut the program two years ago.

Teach for America, on the other hand, is gaining momentum in North Carolina:

Teach For America will place more teachers in eastern North Carolina than ever starting this fall, and TFA’s political influence has grown here has, as well. Governor Pat McCrory recently named a former TFA teacher as his new education advisor. Nationally, Teach For America has a budget of around $300 million, drawing donors like the Bill and Melinda Gates and Walton Family Foundations.

Fast forward then to last month, and the State Senate’s proposed budget (pdf). For the third straight year, the Teaching Fellows annual budget of $13 million went unfunded, as it did in the Governor’s version of the budget.

Teach For America, meanwhile, is poised to get a new initial allocation of $6 million in the Senate budget.

While the House budget restores the Teaching fellows program, the Senate is on track to support TFA over the native program that trained and retained such a large percentage of its participants over the years.

The House’s final vote on its budget comes this afternoon.