University officials are hoping that increased collaboration between the University of Alaska's three schools of education will result in more Alaskans becoming teachers. The Univerity of Alaska Southeast, seen here in this October 2020 file photo, offers teacher training and retention programs. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)

Help wanted: Alaskans to teach Alaska’s students

New consortium and marketing campaign aims to retain and recruit teachers

School may be out for the summer, but Alaska’s university officials are busy thinking about supporting current teachers and attracting a new generation of Alaska’s students to the profession.

“Alaska has a great need for teachers across the state,” said Paul Layer, vice president for academics, students and research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in a phone interview Monday.

Layer said the university system has created a consortium to facilitate greater cooperation among Alaska’s three universities and launched a new marketing campaign to help students find the teacher-training program that makes sense for their career goals.

Coaching from the heart

According to Layer, in-state training options have the capacity for additional students, and officials are working on getting the word out to current and potential teachers through the teachalaska.org website.

“We have three universities and three schools of education. The idea of our program is to have them work together as a consortium to meet the needs across the state and collectively address challenges and problems,” Layer said.

In addition, Layer said university officials are creating partnerships with local school districts to encourage students to consider teaching, working with the state legislature to make employment conditions more favorable, and letting students know that the state university system is available to meet their needs-despite the budget turmoil of the last few years.

Why it matters

Recruiting and retaining Alaskans to teach Alaska’s students is a top priority for the university system, Layer said.

Like many states, Layer said that Alaska is experiencing a shortage of teachers. He noted that Alaska meets about half the annual need for teachers with local preparation programs.

“When we can’t meet the need locally, we have to recruit from outside of Alaska, and that’s a competitive market,” Layer said.

In addition, many teachers from the Lower 48 end up leaving the state after a few years.

“A few years ago, we found that non-Alaskan prepared teachers had a much higher turnover rate. We find that teachers that come up to work aren’t ready to live in Alaska,” Layer said.

Bear encounters running par for course so far in 2021

Layer said that in-state teacher training programs help prepare students for careers in rural Alaska, and those teachers stay in the community longer. Also, attracting students who already live in Alaska ups the chance that they will stick with teaching in the state.

“Students from Alaska are more familiar with the culture and more prepared for teaching in rural Alaska. Students who know Alaska are more prepared and committed to Alaska. They can relate better to the students,” he said.

Layer says that data shows that teachers trained locally excel in Alaska’s classrooms.

“When we look at our graduates who go out to our school districts, they are rated as very well prepared for the job. They stay on longer. Their turnover rate is lower. We need more teachers, and part of that is getting the word out that we have quality programs across the state. We have scholarships and funding opportunities,” he said.

• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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