Features Spring 2023

A Lesson Learned

The McCabe Family School of Education has taken the teacher shortage problem and developed a solution that will benefit school children.

Emergencies aren’t just an opportunity to react, they are an occasion to learn.

In the 2021-22 school year, Oklahoma learned an important lesson regarding the need for emergency certified teachers.

Emergency certification is temporarily issued for one year to someone who has not yet met the certification requirements of a state-approved program. Districts may request emergency certification for a specific candidate only after exhausting every option to find an appropriately certified person for the open position.

Rather than looking back and saying there was a need, OBU’s Henry F. McCabe Family School of Education has looked at the present and is readying for the future with the alternative teaching certificate program, also known as ACCESS (Alternative Certification and Credentialing for Elementary and Secondary Schools).

Dr. Liz Justice is chair and director of the Henry F. McCabe Family School of Education and associate professor of special education. Justice and Professor Annie Keehn serve as co-chairs of OBU’s ACCESS program.

Justice said there is a national crisis in education today – a catastrophic shortage of qualified teachers.

“For many years, school districts have faced increasingly significant challenges in recruiting and retaining teachers, especially in critical need areas such as special education, science, and mathematics,” she said. “Today, critical shortage areas have increased to include early childhood and elementary education and nearly every other area of certification. Throughout the state of Oklahoma, there is an ever-increasing demand for certified teachers.”

In 2011-12, only 32 emergency teaching certificates were issued by the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE). Just a decade later, that number grew to 3,863 emergency certificates during the 2021-22 school year.

Justice explains that to continue teaching beyond the one year granted through emergency certification, teachers must seek this alternative certification. Again, alternative certification is a pathway to becoming a teacher for those who hold a bachelor’s degree but did not complete a teacher education program.

“OBU’s School of Education has been in discussions for several years about starting an education program for those seeking alternative certification,” she said. “Last year, I developed a proposal for starting the ACCESS certification program at OBU and spent most of 2021-22 working to fully develop the proposal, seeking internal and national accreditation approval. ACCESS was approved in June of 2022. Professor Keehn was hired within the School of Education around that time and she jumped right in, helping with program implementation, recruitment and scholarships.”

This program is for the children.

“ACCESS benefits the children in our public-school classrooms as their emergency-certified teacher becomes equipped with the knowledge, skills and disposition that are needed to teach,” Justice said. “Research confirms ‘If students are taught by a string of underqualified and underperforming teachers, it limits academic potential. However, highly qualified teachers are more likely to expand students’ desires to learn and succeed (University of Missouri-Columbia, 2018).’ The primary outcome of this program is to equip our emergency certified teachers to guide, support, love and teach children, in the most effective ways, so the children may reach their potential.”

The added blessing is that OBU is not championing this program alone. Partners are priceless and the Avedis Foundation is charging forward with the Bison.

Avedis said Keehn wowed them with her presentation of the program to their board.

“I think the Avedis Foundation could see that we are passionate about this program because of the difference it will make for teachers and students,” Keehn said. “Colossians 3:23 comes to mind as well, ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.’”

Because of Avedis’ participation, tuition assistance is available for eligible emergency-certified teachers currently teaching in Pottawatomie County public schools as well as Meeker, Chandler, Prague, Little Axe and Seminole public school districts. Provided by the Avedis Foundation, the tuition assistance covers 50% of the total program cost. Following admission into the program, eligible students receive instructions about applying for tuition assistance.

This commitment translates to a substantial investment by the Avedis Foundation of $3,375 in assistance per teacher for those completing the full certificate program.

Each course is offered in a fully online format and may be completed from anywhere.

Another strong-point of this program is that there are multiple opportunities to begin. The first was in January while other start dates follow in June and August.

Plus, OBU’s professors have earned the highest degrees and have years of practical experience in their specific field. In other words, the faculty practices what they teach. Participants will learn first-hand from experienced faculty who have decades of combined experience teaching and leading in public and private schools.

Individuals who have earned a bachelor’s degree in any field are eligible to complete this certificate program, take the necessary teaching certification exams and apply for an Oklahoma teaching license.

So, the ACCESS program prepares students to take the necessary certification exams to become licensed Oklahoma educators. OBU’s undergraduate teacher education candidates have a 95% pass rate on their culminating certification exams, and the University seeks to help alternatively certified teachers experience similar success.

The Avedis Foundation makes the statement that, “Our vision is to measurably improve the health, wellness and quality of life for our state. We’re here for good.”

So is OBU’s commitment to education.

“Avedis Foundation is honored and pleased to partner with Oklahoma Baptist University to fund this project,” said Kathy Laster, Ph.D., president and CEO of Avedis Foundation. “This innovative approach to assist school districts with the burden of the teacher shortages within the communities that we serve is an investment in education for all.”

To enroll in the ACCESS program, apply for tuition assistance or find out more information, visit okbu.edu/access.

Pictured: Bayleigh Vogel, ’21, who graduated from OBU with a cross-cultural ministry degree and two minors in recreational sports and theatre, is a kindergarten teacher at the Shawnee Early Childhood Center. The ACCESS program will help Vogel earn an alternative certification to teach in Oklahoma. She said, “OBU made it possible to work full time, yet participate in this program and still reach success.”