Pacific University RTL Program Helps Relieve Statewide Teacher Shortage

Melissa Aranda With Students Entering A ClassroomFrom the time she was in third grade, Melissa Aranda knew that she wanted to teach.

Aranda remembers how her teacher that year, Mrs. Bower at Warsaw, Indiana’s Lincoln Elementary, made each one of her students feel seen and cared about. It was an approach that, someday, she hoped to emulate in her own classroom.

“We have such a diverse group of learners here,” said Aranda, who now teaches third grade at Forest Grove’s Fern Hill Elementary School. “Our students come from different cultural backgrounds, and I want every student to feel cared about. I want them to know that they can do it. They can learn.”

After spending nearly a decade at Fern Hill as a special education instructional assistant, Aranda was able to realize her dream of becoming a teacher through Pacific University’s Residency Teacher Licensure (RTL) Program. The 11-month non-degree program allows classroom teachers or teacher apprentices who work at least half-time with a provisional or temporary license to earn their Oregon teaching credential.

The RTL program provides a route to licensure in a state experiencing a dire school staffing crisis. According to data from the Oregon Teacher Standards & Practices Commission, there are currently 2,100 teachers in Oregon teaching with temporary or emergency credentials. There are approximately 250 open full-time K-12 teaching positions in the state and many districts struggle to find enough licensed substitutes to cover absences.

Aranda had a pair of degrees from online universities but no route to teacher licensure. In 2022, though, Fern Hill needed a third-grade teacher, and she was able to secure the position on the condition that she completed her teaching license. The RTL program made it possible.

“I was able to get the position and then mixed it with the RTL program to complete everything,” Aranda said. “When I found the RTL at Pacific, I realized that I could go to school, finish the things I needed to do for licensing and continue to teach at the same time.”

The RTL program began four years ago with two cohorts of teachers in the Salem-Keizer School District. It now serves teachers across the state, and 30 have earned their credentials through Pacific. Thirty-two are currently enrolled and the need continues to grow.

“I have great respect for the residents we work with,” said Kevin Carr, the director of the university’s RTL program. “They aren’t just making a simple career move. They bring unique skills and backgrounds into classrooms to support students in a time of urgent need. It requires courage to serve in this way. The goal of our faculty is to support residents and their students in any way we can.” 

The online program brings teachers together virtually every other Saturday, providing instruction in child development, classroom management and content knowledge as well as endorsement areas in teaching specific subjects for middle school and high school. When completed, teachers in the RTL program are eligible to be fully licensed to teach in Oregon.

The online component was key for Ann Andrews, who chose to pursue teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic after a 25-year career as a technical writer and a short tenure as a school library aide.

“The RTL program fit what I was looking for because I felt like I could manage a classroom,” said Andrews, who teaches language arts at Whiteaker Middle School in Keizer, Oregon. “I didn’t have the license and what came with it. But I felt like I could teach.”

A member of one of the first RTL cohorts, Andrews found that the subject matter covered in Pacific’s program prepared her well for not only transitioning to the classroom full-time but also providing instruction in concepts that became more critical following the pandemic.

“The strategies for English language learners, universal design ideas, mindfulness and social/emotional well-being, which became huge after COVID, were already an integral part of the program,” Andrews said. “I felt like I was ahead of the game. I feel like I walked into education very prepared and very qualified.”

In addition to the program’s superior preparation, Aranda appreciated the flexibility that Pacific’s instructors provided in navigating the program as she balanced being a first-year teacher, participating in the program and being the mother of three teenagers.

“Being a first-year teacher is not easy, but I feel like there was always great support,” Aranda said. “There was always great support and connection with the professors at Pacific. They were always open and understanding. That flexibility was huge for me during my first year of teaching.”

Before making a career change, both Aranda and Andrews recommend spending time in a school, whether as a volunteer or working as an aide or assistant, to decide if such a move is right for you. For Andrews, it confirmed that it was just the change that she was looking for.

“It is hard to just jump in and teach and learn and manage, but my advice is to follow your heart,” she said. “In my experience, it has been worth it. I wouldn’t go back. Don’t be afraid to take a jump for something that is calling you.”

Applications are open now for the Spring 2024 entry into the Pacific University RTL Program. For more information on admissions, program format and tuition, visit the RTL Program Website.

LEARN MORE: The teacher shortage in Oregon affects every district. Pacificʻs Kevin Carr provided his perspective on the crisis to Oregon Public Broadcastingʻs Think Out Loud in November. Listen/Read Here

Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024