Karla Huerta, a UTEP senior Education major and Miner Teacher Residency participant, interacts with students from a 4th grade at Purple Heart Elementary School (SISD) in September 2019. (Photo courtesy of UTEP Communications)

By Clifton Tanabe, Ph.D., J.D.

The disruption to our education system caused by COVID-19 has been a historic challenge for the El Paso community. We have witnessed dedicated educators rise to meet this challenge, and we are reminded that it takes a talented person to be a great teacher.

As dean of the College of Education at The University of Texas at El Paso, I have the regular privilege of working with talented individuals striving to become great teachers, every day. The current crisis is undeniably painful, but I am glad to see a new appreciation for the women and men who spend countless hours a week educating and nurturing our children. I hope our community will join me in celebrating recent investments in our regional teacher pipeline.

Clifton Tanabe

Those investments – led by the Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development, the El Paso Community Foundation and UTEP – got a huge boost recently with a $1.36 million commitment to improve teacher recruitment, training and retention in our region. The new grant from the Prentice Farrar Brown & Alline Ford Brown Foundation, managed by Bank of America, will support four key initiatives that will help us identify strong teacher candidates and strengthen and sustain our regional teacher preparation programs.

The first initiative is called El Paso Pathways into Teaching. Working with the nine regional independent school districts and the El Paso Region Teacher Taskforce, UTEP will help develop curricular pathways into education and identify students as early as primary school who have the unique combination of skills needed to be a successful teacher.

The second initiative will expand the UTEP Miner Residency Program, which offers teachers in training hands-on experience in a local classroom along with tailored support and mentoring – much like medical schools have long provided future doctors the opportunity to practice their skills in real-life situations.

UTEP launched a pilot of the Miner Residency Program last year; now the Brown Foundation grant is allowing us to expand it to include 50 new aspiring teachers who will participate in a year-long, site-based residency experience located at schools in the Socorro, El Paso, and Ysleta ISDs.

Our goal is to expand the Miner Residency so that all teacher candidates and all local ISDs can participate in it. In order to scale the residency into the future, and to continue to provide residents a stipend for their work, the third initiative supports districts as they develop new strategic staffing models to make the residency self-sustaining.

For districts, this is about investing in their future workforce, and ensuring there is a pool of motivated and highly trained teachers that are prepared to succeed from the day they step into their classrooms, as fully certified teachers, upon graduation.

The fourth initiative focuses on newly certified teachers. We will work with 60 teachers employed at Canutillo, Fabens, and Tornillo ISDs to pilot a mentorship program. The program will provide these teachers, all who are in their first two years of teaching, with a mentor that will offer classroom observations, feedback, and coaching to help them strengthen and hone their craft.

This grant is the first major investment of its kind by the Brown Foundation in the Borderplex region. CREEED and EPCF, who will jointly administer the funds, deserve tremendous credit for assembling a diverse partnership of entities that are committed to raising the level of educational attainment in our region and that understood, long before the pandemic, what a difference a great teacher makes.

While these are challenging times for educators, and educators in training, I’m excited we are able to support our current teachers and look ahead at how we cultivate and strengthen the next generation of educators.

Clifton Tanabe is dean of the UTEP College of Education.

Cover photo: Karla Huerta, a UTEP senior Education major and Miner Teacher Residency participant, interacts with students from a 4th grade at Purple Heart Elementary School (SISD) in September 2019. (Photo courtesy of UTEP Communications)