The Ticket 2 Teach program aims to support aspiring preschool teachers with mentors and resources, and ease local teacher shortage

Courtesy photo by Michael Garrett
‘LEARN THROUGH PLAY’: Ethan Glover, a Cuesta College child care assistant and Ticket 2 Teach apprentice, engages a young student in the “learn through play” approach that improves kids’ motor and social skills before they head to kindergarten.

The Central Coast is addressing its early childhood teacher shortage by equipping aspiring educators through an apprenticeship program with the goal of employing them in the local workforce.

While teacher shortage is a national problem, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties are facing a serious demand for preschool teachers. But through state grant funding and support from county officials, SLO County has found proven success from its Ticket 2 Teach program.

A collaborative effort among the SLO County Office of Education, its nonprofit economic development initiative called SLO Partners, Cuesta College, and the Community Action Partnership of SLO County (CAPSLO), Ticket 2 Teach enrolled 25 new prospective teachers. They will receive mentorship, career and educational support from experienced teachers, and the chance to “earn while they learn.”

Nineteen-year-old Ethan Glover is a child care assistant and an apprentice in the Ticket 2 Teach program. He joined last year and works with kids between 18 months and 5 years old in Cuesta’s Children’s Center. 

“There’s a lot of unique situations when you’re in the classroom as a child care worker,” Glover said. “Having people who have been in that environment for 20 or 30 years, being able to ask them those questions—like when children are engaged in rough play, and you don’t know how to cater to that. Having all those different and educated opinions helps.”

For Glover, mentorship is the most valuable aspect of the Ticket 2 Teach program. The biggest lesson he learned was to ask more questions.

“In my first few weeks, I just wanted to figure it out on my own,” he recalled. “That did not work well. It’s hard to do it on your own.”

Through Ticket 2 Teach and the Children’s Center, Glover’s days look like equipping kids with the “learn through play” approach. This means that the child care assistants and other teachers try to help kids learn through different kinds of play forms rather than from a piece of paper.

“We want to teach them how to help teach themselves,” he said. “It’s helping them improve their social and motor skills and get them ready for kindergarten.”

Glover is also compensated for the hours he spends at the Children’s Center. Ticket 2 Teach offers stipends to its apprentices and connects them with industry experts who can later assist them with getting employed. While Glover said he feels confident that Ticket 2 Teach will help his career even after he graduates from Cuesta, he highlighted something he said contributes to the teacher shortage crisis.

“I know nationally and just on a global scale, teachers are very much underpaid and that keeps people away from the field,” he said.

SLO County Superintendent of Schools James Brescia told the Sun he’s spent years researching the phenomenon, and it’s not a recent problem.

“Teacher shortages have waxed and waned since the 1960s as a result of economic expansion-recession cycles, changes in workforce demographics, and fluctuations in school-aged populations throughout the state,” Brescia wrote in a 2017 research brief he co-authored with James Gentilucci of the Veritas Research and Evaluation Group. 

But Brescia and Gentilucci called the current long-running teacher shortage notably different from those of the past. It’s a result of the confluence of California’s volatile economic state, widespread retirement in the baby boomer generation, the millennial generation maturing and entering the workforce, and the steep costs associated with getting established in the teaching profession. 

“So, for us, putting dollars into funding local individuals to finish their schooling, get their training, and then hire them in our agencies is a form of apprenticeship,” Brescia said. “We call it a ‘grow your own’ program.”

Brescia and the SLO County Office of Education identified the need to grow their own, meaning recruiting from one’s own community, in an educator recruitment and retention brief published last year. But the Ticket 2 Teach program has been in motion for longer.

In 2019, the SLO County Office of Education received a $500,000 award from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. Those funds are now exhausted, and Ticket 2 Teach runs on contributions braided together from the SLO County Office of Education and the Board of Supervisors. 

Brescia added that Ticket 2 Teach meets aspiring preschool teachers where they are. They can apply as early as in high school, and even working professionals looking to upskill themselves are welcome to try out.

“The program coordinator will assess your training,” he said. “The majority of people takes a year or two to get their certification.”

Depending on their interests and training level, apprentices are matched with offices like CAPSLO, First 5 SLO County, Quality Counts, and the Child Development Training Consortium. Success with Ticket 2 Teach looked like increasing the local workforce by injecting it with certified teachers trained by the program. For SLO County, the goal is to get high school and college students interested in Ticket 2 Teach, fund the program, and give those students a viable career path. 

“The individuals are staying in the community and taking employment in our agencies, whether it’s for us, or CAPSLO, state preschool, the migrant education program,” he said. 

Similar initiatives cropped up in neighboring counties too. Last year, the Santa Barbara County Office of Education also received a $500,000 grant through the California Apprenticeship Initiative for 25 people transitioning from three employee levels: child care assistants to associate teachers, associate teachers to teachers, and teachers to site supervisors. According to KEYT reporting, the initiative came about after the pandemic underscored the importance of having high quality and accessible child care.

Brescia said that efforts like those of Santa Barbara and SLO counties are all part of a statewide network through which officials are trying to achieve sustainable workforces for teachers.

“We’ve been sharing our information with other counties and there are roundtables across the state with workforce groups,” Brescia said. “There are other successful models. Marin County has one, there’s limited success in Santa Clara County, and LA has had some success. We’re all sharing best practices.”

Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal from the Sun’s sister paper at [email protected].

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