Stephen Hartgen 01

You don’t have to spend much time around educators in Idaho before you’ll hear about a looming teacher shortage across the state.  We’re not turning out as many new teachers as we need, particularly for rural communities.

But the College of Southern Idaho is trying to help fill the shortage with a new program which gets second-career teachers through a streamlined module approach which focuses on the teaching craft, and which allows the prospective teacher to effectively leverage their life experience or other college degrees into the teaching profession.

It’s a non-traditional route, for sure.  Most teachers today have graduated from a four-year college teacher education program, eight semesters of study and a heavy dose of classroom learning and student teaching experience. A common complaint is that the graduates may know teaching techniques, but are often short on knowledge of specific subjects, particularly at the high school level.

The system nonetheless endures, partly out of familiarity and partly due to the watchful eye of the teachers’ union, which generally opposes broadening certification and many other innovative ideas.

The new CSI program gives prospective teachers a condensed immersion in teaching methodology over just two years, just four semesters, part-time, at less than $1,000 a semester. It also has an online option.

A key success element is that the prospective teacher is paired with a paid mentor, usually a retired and experienced former teacher, to get further into the “nuts and bolts” of the teaching craft.

That’s won the praise of Twin Falls Superintendent Brady Dickinson who writes, “CSI has done a great job with this program. They spent a great deal of time talking with local school leaders to create a program that better prepares candidates for the classroom and provides the support they need to succeed.”

Smaller districts like it as well. Buhl’s Superintendent Ron Anthony has three teachers in the program and praises its use of mentors. “They’re going to see a teacher who’s had a lot of practice,” Anthony said. “That’s very important.”

The program is bursting at the seams in enrollment, going from 18 last year to 80 this year. Here’s a link about that: www.Idahoednews.org. (“Enrollment Surges at CSI’s Non-Traditional Teacher Prep Program.”)

Why are prospective second-career teachers piling in? It appears to be a combination of low cost, flexible hours, elimination of the need to leave home and probably other factors like rising teacher pay and benefits. The median elementary school teacher pay in Idaho is now well over $50,000 for a nine-month contract; secondary school teachers with median pay of over $60,000. (See US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Idaho, 2018 at  https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_id.htm. ) Teachers in Idaho are also part of the PERSI (Public Employees Retirement System of Idaho) plan, which provides a stable and well-regarded retirement for Idaho state employees, not a minor consideration in today’s workforce planning. (www.persi.idaho.gov.)

These increases and the Legislature’s continued fiscal commitment, have added to the appeal of teaching as a career, particularly in small communities. By eliminating previous hide-bound barriers, the CSI program is a new model for the workforce needed in the teaching profession in our growing state.

The new model is flexible and harkens back to earlier approaches. Albion Normal School, for example, turned out many good teachers with a two-year program from the 1890s to 1947, when it was closed as four-year “education” degrees became the rage. (In the early 1900s, promising young women could enroll at Albion at 14; boys had to be 15. That’s how Idaho’s many “one room” schoolhouse were originally staffed.)

Sometimes, drawing on pieces of a past model makes a lot of sense. Many youngsters in those generations were taught by Albion-trained teachers and they generally turned out pretty well.  (The last 1940s Albion graduates are now elderly; their stories deserve further telling.)

The CSI program is also a great example of the iron law of economics and self-interest. People want to better themselves in every profession, and the new entrants have strong motivation to do so. Key features like lower costs, flexible scheduling, focused return on investment ad strong mentoring all play critical roles.

Sure, there are questions. But if it succeeds in producing quality teachers, why shouldn’t Idaho expand the model? Why are we spending millions of dollars annually on traditional four-year programs which may need revision? Many teachers will tell you privately that the “pedagogy” they slogged through in four-year education programs could well be condensed.

College education deans and faculty might see such innovations, particularly coming from a community college, as an intrusion on their traditional turf. Nor is the program likely to win favor from the Idaho Education Association, the teachers union, which sees most innovative change in negative light as it undercuts their monopolies.

The quality of a program like this is not fully determined. It may be seen as a “short cut” by some. And it will surely affect four-year campus enrollments, since it can be taken online.

A nice feature is that it’s open to prospective teachers who may not have a four-year college degree, including para-professionals, teacher aides and similar current positions.

Despite these hurdles, the program is well worth a close look by legislators. It’s already attracting students in droves. That also ought to be good news for Idaho education in general. Hats off to CSI for making this program work and to the new infusion of second-career teachers who are entering the profession this way. Hang in there!  Go for it! Idaho needs you.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.”   .He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.