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Teacher Recruitment Program celebrates 20 years of certifying new Texas teachers

Teacher Recruitment Program celebrates 20 years of certifying new Texas Teachers

Emma Carberry | January 16, 2019

Twenty years ago, Dr. Leslie Huling and Dr. Virginia Resta took notice of the influx of technology companies and start-up businesses around Round Rock. As the area grew, so did the number of professionals who were leaving those technology companies mid-career with the desire to give back and make a difference in people’s lives. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education announced a competitive grant opportunity aimed at repairing the issue of retention within the teaching field. Huling and Resta, who were faculty in the College of Education’s secondary education program at the time, saw this as an opportunity to build a teacher certification program for mid-career professionals who were ready to switch careers and enter the teaching field.

A teacher leans over to her students who are sitting on the floor as she teaches a lesson

The pair proposed the Teacher Recruitment and Induction Program (TRIP), a field-based program that would provide the opportunity for students to earn their teaching certification in just two semesters, while also earning 18 credits toward a master’s degree in either elementary or secondary education. The Department of Education ultimately funded the program for four years, allowing Texas State to offer TRIP students the added benefits of fully-funded tuition and mentors who would provide guidance not only throughout the program, but also into their full-time teaching careers.

Today, Huling and Resta’s labor of love, now called the Teacher Recruitment Program (TRP), is still going strong, enrolling full cohorts each semester with students from diverse backgrounds. Usually, reflects Huling, “when the funding fades, the program fades,” but because the pair believed in TRP so much, they worked hard to keep it going, even when they could no longer fund tuitions or hire mentors. Dr. Cheryll Dennis, the current program coordinator and elementary advisor for TRP, says the program has maintained several unique traits over the past two decades that are its secrets to success: information sessions, orientation, and cohort structure.

Since its inception, TRP has hosted monthly information sessions that allow prospective students the opportunity to learn more about it in person and make personal connections with program faculty. Then, when they are accepted, students all attend a TRP-specific orientation that is designed to help reacclimate those who may have spent time away from a higher education setting back to the environment. Finally, Dennis says, the cohort structure is essential for TRP students. With two intensive semesters of field-based coursework and student teaching, the camaraderie of the cohort model is one aspect that keeps students motivated.

a teacher helps a student with her writing
a teacher leans over to two of her students who are working with tablets

For Revathi Balakrishnan, TRP was the perfect fit when she decided to switch professions from systems analyst to elementary school teacher in 2004. She already had a master’s degree in economics and wasn’t interested in returning to undergraduate studies. When researching the program, she was drawn to the immersion aspect of TRP’s fieldwork, as well as the fact that she could complete it in nine months. Paired with the fact that the classes were located close to home, she says it was like “all the stars were aligned.” When she entered her first classroom at Round Rock ISD, where she has been teaching since 2005, she says she felt completely comfortable. Her background in industry has shaped her teaching philosophy, and she makes sure each lesson she prepares has real-world applications – a model that has clearly worked well for her, as she was named Texas Teacher of the Year in 2016.

Over the years, TRP has attracted students from across Texas, the nation, and the world. In addition to students who have found their way to Texas from other states and countries and now want to make a teaching career for themselves in Texas, Dennis says she has also had students travel from San Antonio and College Station several days a week in order to attend TRP courses on the Round Rock campus. While there are other opportunities to earn teaching certifications in Texas, according to Dennis, TRP’s reputation draws students who feel truly privileged to be part of such a unique program and who do not mind any extra travel that may be associated with it.

This spring semester marks the 41st cohort of Teacher Recruitment Program students. In the last twenty years, the program has graduated approximately 700 teachers who came to the program from various industries. Huling, Resta and Dennis can remember students who were attorneys, engineers, and ship captains, all of whom brought different viewpoints to their cohorts. “It’s great fun in terms of getting people together with those kinds of backgrounds and the perspectives that they bring,” says Huling.

Huling is still closely tied to the program, serving as an advisor to students in TRP’s secondary education track in addition to her role as a Senior Advisor in the College of Education’s LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research. Resta remains close by, working part-time as an Evaluation Specialist with the LBJ Institute, where the pair continue serving the community together. “When we started it, I don’t think we would have thought we would be sitting here 20 years later,” Huling reflects proudly, still as excited to talk about the Teacher Recruitment Program as the day it began. Dennis says she feels as privileged to be part of the program as the students who enroll in it. After twenty years of excellence, she can feel the magic behind the program’s legacy.