Teach Alabama program continues to grow

Frances Schofield, a teacher at Shelby County High School, started the Teach Alabama program four years ago. Now, the program has spread to 37 schools in the state, and new prospective teachers are visiting classrooms daily.

The Teach Alabama program allows high school students to take classes in how to teach while also gaining valuable field experience in elementary and middle school classrooms.

The program’s curriculum was written as a response to declining numbers of teachers across the state, Schofield said.

“Four years ago, 40 percent of new teachers quit within four years because they weren’t happy,” she said. “They spent all those years in college. (Teach Alabama) lets them know if they’ll be happy or not beforehand.”

Schofield was the first teacher in the state to get the Teach Alabama grant and begin the program. With the $50,000 grant money, she was able to purchase computers and other equipment for her classroom.

“I didn’t start teaching until I was 47 myself, so everything fresh and new is what I like to do,” she said.

Schofield’s students, all sophomores, juniors and seniors, go to Elvin Hill Elementary and Columbiana Middle School for field experience.

“The program would not be successful without the field experience,” she said. “The wonderful thing is the mentor teachers at Elvin Hill and Columbiana Middle have really taken the kids under their wing. It’s their mission to help the child find a career field.”

Schofield’s students get the opportunity to experience several grade levels, ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade.

She said some of her students come out of the three-year program knowing with certainty they want to be teachers.

“That happens over and over again,” she said. “I get chill bumps every time that happens.”

Some students find out teaching isn’t for them.

“We’ve had kids come back and say, ‘I don’t like this.’ And those are the real winners, because they didn’t go through four years of college to find out what they didn’t want to do,” Schofield said.

She is trying to get an agreement with the University of Montevallo that would allow her students who go to UM and study education to receive college credit for going through the Teach Alabama program. While that process is ongoing, she’s hopeful it will happen soon.

Schofield her goal is to make sure some students have an idea of their career path before they ever set foot on a college campus.

“We’ve got so many kids that do not have any idea what they want to do. This gives them an accurate perception of what teaching is really like,” she said. “Basically, it’s giving them a head start in the career field they want to be in for the rest of their lives.”