University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen, left, listens to Dr. Steve Atwater, Executive Dean of the university’s new Alaska College of Education, during an interview at the University of Alaska Southeast on Friday, August 3, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen, left, listens to Dr. Steve Atwater, Executive Dean of the university’s new Alaska College of Education, during an interview at the University of Alaska Southeast on Friday, August 3, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Opinion: University of Alaska is committed to preparing our future teachers

Loss of accreditation was a setback, but is a challenge UA can overcome

Alaska desperately needs Alaska-trained teachers and in response to our growing teacher shortage, the University of Alaska has expanded its support of the recruitment, preparation and retention of our state’s PK-12 teachers.

To increase the recruitment and retention of teachers, the Alaska Statewide Mentoring Project (ASMP) provides mentor support, this year working with more than 150 early career teachers. UA supports Educators Rising, a national organization that helps steer high school students to the teaching profession.

More than 30 of our state’s school districts have Educators Rising activity with hundreds of Alaska students involved and thinking about becoming a teacher. UA is also offering and coordinating more professional development for teachers, and through the Alaska College of Education, we have stepped up its efforts to recruit, prepare and retain teachers for Alaska. But it has not been without its challenges.

Earlier this year the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Education lost accreditation for seven of its teacher preparation programs. Although the UA Board of Regents decided to discontinue the school’s initial licensure programs, the board did not vote to close the UAA School of Education but rather to leave in place for now UAA’s advanced programs (e.g., graduate and endorsement programs).

[University officials to consider having one University of Alaska, not three]

The board’s decision provided the university the opportunity to design a revitalized program for students who want to become teachers via a suite of teacher education programs in Anchorage and around the state. That means Alaskans can study to become a teacher from anywhere in Alaska, and enjoy a consistent experience with quality faculty.

The education faculty and advisors from UAA, University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Southeast are providing a personalized transfer experience for UAA’s education students. For those in the Anchorage area that means becoming a teacher does not require a physical move to Fairbanks or Juneau — since January, close to 200 UAA students have transferred to UAS or UAF. The loss of accreditation was a setback for UA and the state, but it is a challenge that UA can overcome.

Dr. Steve Atwater.

Dr. Steve Atwater.

These UA-educated teachers are well prepared for their jobs, and most school principals who hire UA graduates agree. Our teaching programs are continually refined and students are taught to use local examples to explain concepts. For example, they would learn to use the layers of a snow pack outside of the classroom to explain density to a science class. For that reason, and so many others, UA-educated teachers stay in Alaska at a much higher rate than do those educated Outside. Currently, 41 percent of teachers in our school districts earned their degree at UA, and several of our graduates have been named Teacher of the Year.

[Opinion: University of Alaska struggles to deliver education efficiently]

Our teachers are paving the way for the future of our state, and the university is fully committed to a future that recognizes the need for more locally trained educators. We are committed to reaching our goal of 90 percent of all teachers being UA-trained by 2025 — a goal our state needs us to attain. We encourage everyone to embrace this goal.

Regardless of where our students take their teacher preparation programs, I think it’s important that we tell these graduates that they are our future educators, that teaching is our society’s most important profession and that without good teachers and a strong public education system our social fabric would unravel.

While budget talks and labor negotiations might distract from the core purpose of teaching, let’s not lose sight of the fact that hard work has prepared our graduates for the classroom, our state’s overall well-being needs a well-educated population, and that is dependent on excellent teachers.


• Steve Atwater is the Executive Dean of the Alaska College of Education at the University of Alaska. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.


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