Iowa Schools Prepping Launch of Teacher / Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeships

School administrators across Iowa are finalizing interviews and administrative procedures this month as the final steps in initiating an innovative new program that’s expected to create more than 1,000 new teachers and paraeducators for Iowa classrooms. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds in June awarded $45.6 million in grants that will be shared by 134 school districts across the state. The money will cover educational costs and part of the salaries for more than 500 teachers and 500 paraeducators.  

Participants in the Teacher Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeship Pilot Grant Program will earn paychecks for working in Iowa classrooms while they attend their own online classes to obtain formal teaching degrees.  High school students will be able to earn an associate’s degree and a paraeducator certificate, while existing paraeducators will be able to work toward a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license. 

Educators expect the apprenticeships to create a wave of new entrants into the teaching profession, opening it for the first time to Iowans who lack the resources or the flexibility to leave their hometowns for college. 

“It’s not a traditional way to come into the system,” said Tara Estep, executive director of enrichment and special programs for the Cedar Falls Community School District.  

Cedar Falls was the first district to finalize the details of its program earlier this month. This fall, 15 of the 170 paraeducators working in Cedar Falls classrooms also will be attending online classes from the University of Northern Iowa on Wednesday nights and one Saturday per month.  

Colleen Mulholland, dean of UNI’s College of Education, said the new path may end up creating a different type of “new” teacher – one with deeper ties to the school systems and communities where they already work. 

“We’re talking about just a different person really from the beginning,” Mulholland said. 

Estep agreed.  

“These are people who are already employed by Cedar Falls, so they know what our schools look like; they’re already committed to our system,” she said. “We’re looking forward to this because these people are already invested in Cedar Falls.” 

Kris Byam, registered apprenticeship program coordinator for Iowa Workforce Development and a former school principal, said the new program will emphasize the benefits of on-the-job learning. Over three years, apprentices will log more than 6,000 hours in a classroom, compared to the roughly 1,000 hours that a student teacher collects using Iowa’s customary path toward an education degree. 

“Our hope is that more experience in the classroom is going to get us a deeper sense of knowledge and a deeper sense of how to teach,” Byam said.  

For more information about the Teacher and Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeship, visit this page at EarnAndLearnIowa.gov