It can be hard to start a new career, and in a rural county like ours, obstacles can prevent it from happening. If you’ve ever wanted to teach, but felt that it was impossible because you didn’t have a teaching certificate or the financial means to get one, take heart. The Lake and Mendocino County Offices of Education offer Teach Lake County, a program that will help you reach your goals and give you teaching experience at the same time.
The Bloom spoke with Jamie Buckner-Bridges, Coordinator of Teacher Development for Teach Lake County, about the program.
BLOOM (B): Tell me about why Teach Lake County was started.
JAMIE BUCKNER-BRIDGES (JBB): To paint a picture, we need to go back a decade. In the recession of 2008-10, budgets became unstable, and school districts had to release teachers. On top of that, there was a large retirement wave. Then, as the economy improved, budgets increased, and the schools said, ‘Come back,’ but there were no teachers to fill the positions. School districts would search all year long and be unable to find a qualified applicant.
It’s hard finding teachers in Lake County. Statistically, most of our students are socio-economically disadvantaged, and they need extra support. Some teachers aren’t used to the rural life in Lake County and eventually move back to the city. All of these factors compounded, and the result was a teacher shortage.
B: That has a profound impact on the quality of education the children receive.
JBB: It does. Then, in 2017, Lake County’s Superintendent of Schools Brock Falkenberg, in collaboration with Mendocino County Office of Education, started a teacher intern program to create the opportunity for people to earn a teaching credential while working as a teacher simultaneously. This solves two problems. First, it fills an immediate opening, and
it allows someone to start working right away while getting their certification. Second, it allows people to teach who might not have been able to otherwise, like parents reentering the workforce or people changing careers.
B: That’s a great idea! Have any teachers completed the program yet?
JBB: In 2018, we started the program with mild/moderate special education teachers. In 2019, we expanded it to include K-6 Multiple Subject credentials as well. In June of 2020, we graduated ten people certified as special education teachers in Lake and Mendocino Counties. They were local people who wanted to teach but didn’t have the pathway before. It was cost-prohibitive before, and there wasn’t a local place to take classes. Some private online universities charge $30,000 to earn a credential; Teach Lake County makes it much more affordable. We have two pay structures: for a Multiple Subjects credential, it’s $4,700 per year. But for a Special Education credential, we have a grant that reduces the tuition down to $1,200 per year, which is quite affordable.
B: That’s inexpensive.
JBB: And we can provide a custom education. Right now, we are operating as a satellite of the North Coast School of Education, but we are applying for approval for Lake County, which would allow us to run our own accredited program. That means we could create a curriculum that addresses the specific needs of our community. We need to prepare people to teach students who have experienced trauma, like wildfires, poverty, and drug abuse. When we have our own program, we can add that lens to the curriculum to prepare our teachers.
B: Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
I want to express my appreciation for Superintendent Brock Falkenberg in his prioritization of the program. He’s an elected official, and elected officers often focus on things that are highly visible to the public. The need for this program isn’t visible to the general public, but it is vitally important to the success and wellness of our children and schools.
If you’ve always wanted to teach, it’s not too late. Look at the Teach Lake County website to learn more about how you can start a new career.