Aspiring teachers getting hands-on training through revamped Hillsborough County Schools program

Teacher shortages across the country have become a big issue.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 48 states, including Florida, are reporting teacher shortages for the 2017-2018 school year.

Hillsborough County is currently using a program they hope will bring former students back to teach in classrooms in the county. It’s called the Urban Teaching Academy (UTA).  

It’s a four-year program for high school students to give them hands-on experience in the classroom. A number of those classrooms are struggling academically.

The idea is to prepare these students early, hoping they will return to the same schools after college to teach.

Alison Hardy is graduating from the program this year. She said she would never have learned everything she has about teaching in just a textbook.

“Ms. Williams [was the difference,]" said Hardy. "She taught us because she wanted to, not because she had to.”

That teacher she was telling us about is Ms. Gwendolyn Williams, a 36-year teaching veteran who says UTA is a way to show students who want to teach what it’s really like.

“It’s about what you can do to help someone else,” said Williams. “And if you help someone else along your pathway, your living has not been in vain.”

UTA isn’t a new concept in Hillsborough County, it started in 2008.

The new angle this year is the addition of Character GPS, a Tampa-based non profit co-founded by Jeff and Deborah Cain. They say their objective is to develop curriculum that will supplement what UTA is already doing in hopes of showing students their innate value.

“It’s not where you start in life, it’s where you finish,” said Jeff Cain. “We help kids realize they are not victims. [Your success] is based on the choices you make.”

Alison Hardy says the addition of Character GPS made UTA that much more impactful. Hardy is already taking college classes to get ahead for the fall.  She wants to be a culinary arts teacher.

Learn more about Character GPS here.

Learn more about the Urban Teaching Academy here.

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