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Field Trip: Forging New Pathways to Teaching


What is a Registered Apprenticeship Program in education? And how can it help school districts solve the teacher shortage?

Andrea Dickson, Director of Talent Acquisition in Brazosport Independent School District in Texas, shares how their apprenticeship program enables them to open teaching up to more people who want to teach — but who may otherwise have encountered barriers to entering the profession. She describes how they structure the program and offers specific steps for any districts seeking to implement a similar offering.


  • Innovative pathways: this alternative route to teacher certification makes it possible for participants to avoid the financial hurdles that come with the cost of a traditional teacher preparation program or taking time off of work.
  • Addressing the teacher shortage: The program is helping Brazosport ISD fill vacancies by offering on-ramps for internal and external candidates.
  • Supportive framework: Apprentices receive hands-on experience and mentorship from veteran teachers — and emerge from the program well-equipped from day one.
  • Community engagement: The program naturally enhances the diversity of the teaching workforce by attracting talent from the community.


Full Transcript  

ANDREA DICKSON: I think if anything, we’ve proven that people still want and will choose education. That’s what I want people to know. It’s not that people don’t want to do it. I think that it’s showing them a clear path to the end. It’s saying, “Here’s your path to teacher certification. We’ve removed obstacles you would’ve otherwise had to hurdle.” If you provide the path, people will still choose to be educators. We’ve proven that people will still choose it if they’re given a path to get to the end and are well prepared to go into the classroom. 

When most people think about the pathway to becoming a teacher, they probably think about a traditional teacher preparation program, maybe getting a degree in education. But in many places, that is changing. Today we are looking at how one school district is leading the way in giving people an alternative route to a teaching career. 


From Frontline Education, this is Field Trip. 


Andrea Dickson is the Director of Talent Acquisition in Brazosport Independent School District, on the Texas coast just south of Houston. She joined me to talk about the district’s Registered Apprenticeship Program and how it’s helping them fill their vacancies. 


RYAN ESTES: Let’s begin at a very basic level. What is a registered apprenticeship program, and what inspired Brazosport ISD to pursue one for teacher preparation? 

ANDREA: Yeah, so that’s a good question. Being a registered apprenticeship program through the Department of Labor is relatively new to the field of education. So there’s always been apprenticeships, right? Whether it’s through a plumbing career, an electrical technician career, they were journeymen, right? They went through that same process. But in the spring of 2022, the Department of Labor opened up education as an apprenticeable occupation. Before that, it really wasn’t available. And so it is a process to get registered with the Department of Labor to be an authentic registered teacher apprenticeship program. Basically, that allows the employer to unlock funds that otherwise would be unavailable if you were not registered with the Department of Labor. 

The idea came to us because just like every other district in Texas, in the nation, we faced shortages in our teaching. We couldn’t fill our vacancies. So we thought, what can we do? We had, of course, a local “Grow our own” program where we had paraprofessionals, but there were still restrictions. You had to have at least an associate’s degree. Then we, of course, would help out with the remaining tuition and alternative certification program, but still that limited us, right? We could only have a certain number. It was limited to people who had an associate’s degree. And so we wanted to work even more at what are innovative strategies we can use to fill our pipeline. 

So in January of 2021, we actually added a paid clinical teaching experience. We were one of the first districts in Texas to offer that. Historically, a student teacher or a clinical intern would have to go through an unpaid experience per semester. And a lot of times that became a barrier for people. We saw candidates actually decide not to go through the licensure pathway with the university because they could not afford to work for a full semester unpaid. And that’s like the capstone of the university experience. So we were seeing people actually decide not to go through the licensure program because they were like, “I can’t go for a semester unpaid and work 40 hours a week.” That was a complete barrier into our profession. 

RYAN: Which is tough because you need people who can teach. We have people who want to teach, and there’s a barrier that’s preventing them from entering. 

ANDREA: Exactly. Exactly. And we were seeing that. So we thought, why not pay them? Let’s figure out a way to pay them to come and do their student teaching, their clinical teaching with Brazosport ISD. So we had a goal for a number of student teachers that spring semester. We met that goal, and it grew from there. We looked at that next fall semester. We continued to offer the paid clinical teaching. But we also looked at developing a year-long paid residency program and were working with regional programs to try to help us do that. 

So we were in the midst of these other initiatives when it became available to open up a full-blown registered apprenticeship with the Department of Labor that following spring. So even all of that morphed into this idea of an apprenticeship, and all of our other initiatives end up falling under that umbrella of this registered apprenticeship. 

RYAN: What are the criteria for someone to take part in a program like this? What boxes do they need to check in order to be a participant? 

ANDREA: We wanted to make it available to anybody at any point in their journey to become a teacher. So we actually established what we call on-ramps. They’re entry points for apprentices. If you come with zero hours, you could potentially enter in on-ramp one. If you come with 30 hours, you could enter, right? We have an entry point. If you come with 65 hours, there’s an entry point for you. If you come to us degreed, and your degree is not in education, there’s an entry point for you. We open up an application once or twice a year. It has received an overwhelming response because it’s clear that people do want to choose education if there is a clear pathway to get to teacher certification. 

And so our program offers this no-cost, low-cost pathway for people to either get their degree, finish their degree, or go through an AL Cert program to obtain their teacher certification. You can come to us at any point, and if you are selected through our interview and selection process, you can begin your journey as a teacher apprentice. 

RYAN: You mentioned that Brazosport has a gap and was unable to fill all of your vacancies. And you also mentioned that this has gotten an overwhelming response. Can you give a sense of the numbers we’re talking about here? Obviously, you’re a decent-sized school district. How many vacancies a year are we talking about, roughly? And what’s the interest been like in this program in terms of numbers? 

ANDREA: We hire roughly on average 150 new teachers a year. So we have about 2,000 employees, roughly a thousand of those being certified teachers, and about 11,500 students. 

That’s the size of our district. Our first application opening from the apprenticeship received close to 200 applicants. That is the interest, right? And then the second one received over a hundred. So we’re getting good numbers. 

These are both internal and external applicants, right? So some people have even engaged with the district to get a paraprofessional position because they thought that it would give them leeway into the next apprentice application. To already be in the district and have that internal experience because their goal was to apply for the apprenticeship the next time it came open. 

So they would come in and apply to be a paraprofessional or a preferred substitute or a substitute just to get their foot in the door. So when the apprenticeship came open again, they would be able to apply and have more of a background knowledge of the district and maybe make connections at our campuses, things of that nature. 

So it’s received a really great response. 

RYAN: So it sounds like it’s not only addressing your need for teachers but also filling some of the other staffing needs that you’re experiencing as well. 

ANDREA: So that’s the beautiful thing. Obviously, paraprofessionals are so important to how a school district works. We couldn’t function without them. Not only are our apprentices coming in and filling those para roles right before they go into residency, they’re working. That’s the whole point of apprenticeship. 

You’re working in the environment that you’re pursuing while earning wages, while learning and going to school. So they’re also filling those critical-need paraprofessional and preferred substitute roles that we need. 

RYAN: So tell me about the program itself. What does it look like as a whole? 

ANDREA: We currently have right under, I would say, right under a hundred apprentices in our pipeline right now. So we’re sitting right at 97. We try to balance that with about 25 apprentices per on-ramp, give or take. On-ramps one through three are still working to get their bachelor’s degree. They’re working in paraprofessional roles in the district, and they are going to school full-time and also receiving monthly training. We do seven apprentice trainings per year per on-ramp. These are called micro-credentials. They are bite-sized teacher tools or teacher skills that our apprentices learn. 

They demonstrate it in some way or another to assess the skill that they’ve mastered. And then they are stackable. So if an apprentice joins in on-ramp two, the question’s been asked, “Wouldn’t they need basically all of the on-ramp one trainings?” Yes. They will inadvertently get those as we go through. 

Everything’s stackable, everything’s buildable. They’re not meant to be a burden. They take those back to the classroom and implement them. So really, everyone’s experience in on-ramps one through three would be working in a role in the district, going to school full-time, and receiving apprenticeship training. 

On-ramp four functions a little bit differently. That’s our resident year. These people are either degreed or they’re within one year of degree completion. So they are paired with a master teacher to go through a complete year where they learn everything about how to be a teacher, how to plan, how to communicate with parents, how to structure your classroom, behavior management, and professional learning communities. All of the things you would want anyone to know before they entered their first year of teaching on their own. Those people are working with that master teacher in that classroom for that full year. 

They are either, like I said, degreed or finishing their degree and they’re going through an alternative certification program to get their certification and be a teacher so that when they exit, they are holding a teacher certification for their first year as a teacher of record. 

RYAN: Sure. I’m trying to picture more specifically what this looks like, and I’m envisioning something that might look similar to a student teacher program. Am I picturing that correctly, or are there aspects of it that look very different because it’s a different kind of program? 

ANDREA: Similar but different is how I would describe it. There are definitely universities out there that do full one-year residency programs. We do include, on top of everything else that we do, those residents, they attend our teacher induction program at the beginning of the year. They also have in-depth co-teaching training with their mentor. These are co-teaching strategies that they’ll use in the classroom because it’s not a natural thing to expect a teacher to know how to share that space with another adult. They’re just used to running their classroom and doing their thing, and it’s like you don’t throw another adult in there and say, “Here you go.” 

It’s like, how do I utilize that resident teacher effectively to get the most for my students, to get the most for myself, and the most for them? So we give them co-teaching training, in pairs training, to try to understand also what’s the best way to communicate with your mentee, your resident, and how to have crucial conversations when hard conversations need to happen. What’s the best way to approach those? And so we cover an array of topics with them. We try to make sure they’re as prepared as possible. We also give them a kind of gradual release schedule. What does it look like for the first three weeks? What does it look like for the second five weeks? How much do you release at a time? But we encourage co-teaching throughout, even though there would be time periods where the resident may teach solo while the master teacher observes to give feedback or something like that. But for the most part, we do encourage a lot of co-teaching strategies. 

RYAN: Yeah, I know in August of ‘22, you had 65 new apprentices begin in the district. How did that go? Was that your first year? 

ANDREA: That was our first launch year. 

So keep in mind, we were not only one of the first districts to attempt this, but this was new to our apprentices. This was new to our mentor teachers. This was new to our campus principals. So it was definitely a year of designing while executing. And so we learned a lot. The apprentices, I have to give them a lot of credit. 

They allowed us a lot of grace during that time, while we didn’t know what we didn’t know about what’s the best way to do things, what’s the best order of operations, communication, and all those things. And so it was still a great year, a very positive year. Would I say that we’ve gotten a lot more efficient with the way we run things? Absolutely, from that first year. But, again, very successful. I think it was exciting for everyone involved because it was so innovative and new and people were just wondering, how is this program going to work? Is it going to work? And I think once it proved that it truly is working, it is a solid solution to the pipeline issue. I think people got really excited because we proved that it can be done and it’s working. It’s working beautifully. 

RYAN: I watched a video that you shared with me before we got on this call that talked about the program, and in it, there were a couple of clips of kids who were talking about how excited they were about the apprentices who had been in their rooms and that kind of thing. What kinds of things did you observe from students in the hallways, when you have a classroom where you have these two people working together? Because obviously, that’s the thing we’re getting at, right? We want to make sure this is a great classroom environment. So, yeah. What did you see there? 

ANDREA: Our students just see them as teachers. They have two teachers, right? I think that we train our mentors to treat and really expose that teacher as the second teacher. You’re together, you’re a team. They’re not a student, they’re not a helper, they’re not an assistant. They’re two teachers in the room. So that’s how students view it. The relationships they build with our residents and our apprentices that are paraprofessionals is incredible. I’ve seen an apprentice return, a resident, who was a clinical teacher resident, return to the campus to do something that he did his residency at, and the kids just flock to him in the hallway. 

They love him. And I think that if you were to poll students and students have been polled about co-teaching, like from the program we use for co-teaching, their studies revealed, we haven’t necessarily polled our students yet, but that’s a great data point. Basically, what were the benefits of having two teachers in? And of course, their data revealed that with co-teachers in the room, students got questions answered more readily. They got more one-on-one attention from their teachers. They were able to engage more in the learning. There were fewer disruptions. All of these things are beneficial for not only the teacher but for the students. 

And you look at it twofold. Even pulling student data and seeing how they’re doing with the extra teacher in the room, right? Or pulling the mentor’s perspective. You’re going to see less teacher burnout because you have an additional resident in there helping with small group facilitation stations, facilitation of assignments, co-teaching, just taking some of that load and dividing it. And then everyone’s reaping the benefits of that. 

RYAN: One of the ways that we often tend to look at the staffing challenges that school districts face is from the perspective of the school, right? Of the school district. You’re looking, saying, “We don’t have enough people to fill these vacancies. What are we going to do?” And the impacts that have. But one of the things I am really interested in is the impact of this program on those apprentices because you mentioned earlier, they’re people who are really eager to get into this and looking to take steps forward. Can you share anything about any stories that you’ve heard from people who have gotten into this program and how it’s helped them out? 

ANDREA: People always reiterate to us that this is just such an amazing opportunity in their life that they do not believe that they would be able to take this journey without our program because it’s a low cost, no cost. Literally, they’re going to come out with little to no student debt. So that impacts their ability to really reap their whole income at the end of this instead of paying back student loans. But also the confidence that our program provides. Not only are we in the lower on-ramps providing experience in the classroom as paraprofessionals and exposure overall to the profession, but we’re training you every year you’re with us and we’re building on those trainings. And then the capstone of that is a full-year residency with a master teacher so that you really understand how to run a classroom and how to connect with kids and really hone in on all those pieces of becoming a really effective teacher, right? A high-quality instructor. We’ve just heard people say, “I couldn’t have done it without this program. I’m so grateful for this program.” One apprentice recently said, “It was one of the most empowering choices I could have ever made.” Because a lot of our apprentices, some of them are traditional students, like you would think of in college. 

They’re coming in their twenties and they’re getting their college degree. But we have people who come who are degreed. They realized growing up and becoming an adult that they really do want to teach. They just didn’t realize it at that time and now want to learn how to do it and get their teaching certificate. 

And so it’s giving those people an opportunity to do something they really love and they really have a desire to do. We’ve just received overwhelmingly positive feedback about people’s experiences and what they are able to accomplish because of this program. 

RYAN: The reason I ask that is because I’m picturing the faces on that video that you shared, and it was really neat to see there. They believed in me. They gave me this chance. Are there people in the program who just didn’t have the kind of opportunities that a lot of people do, that this really provided that way to step into a career that just might not have been there otherwise? 

ANDREA: Absolutely. We have people who come from all walks of life and have had many obstacles in their past, and they may have put off their own education to raise their children. Or they put off investing in themselves to invest in others, but they needed the program support to be successful. We even have, of course, we partner because we’re a registered apprenticeship. One of our partners is the Texas Workforce Commission. So every apprentice goes through an eligibility screening, and if they’re eligible to receive benefits from the Texas Workforce Commission, they could be eligible for a clothing voucher for professional clothing. They could be eligible for a gas card to help with transportation to and from work. They could be eligible for childcare assistance. So all of these things are made possible because we’re a registered apprenticeship program. 

RYAN: I’m curious, what steps have you taken to make sure that the training you’re providing has the kind of quality and rigor that you’re looking for, and how do you assess its effectiveness as the program goes on? 

ANDREA: Yeah. I think we evaluate that. Of course, we have competencies that we try to meet with our trainings that are aligned to our standards. We try to make sure that what we’re teaching them is timeless and usable throughout their career, no matter what. 

And it’s something that they can consume at this point in their journey. So even if we’re talking about something as simple as greet for a great day, right? How do you greet your students when they come in, right? You’re going to use that every part of your career. And everything just builds on it. 

But we also collect a lot of data feedback. At the end of all of our trainings, we’re taking feedback from our apprentices. How did this work for you? Did you understand everything? We’re also looking at how they’re mastering the trainings. One of the assessments we have is they go back to their classroom, whether they’re a para or a resident or whatever their role is, and they implement the skill they learned and video it. 

And then they send it back to our success coaches. We have apprentice success coaches, and they give timestamped feedback about their demonstration and whether they met the skill or maybe the assessment is developing a lesson plan or doing a discussion board or something. And so really, they have to prove that they understand the concept and that they can apply it readily in the classroom. 

RYAN: What role do you see registered apprenticeship programs playing in addressing teacher shortages and maybe even in diversifying teacher workforces across the nation? 

ANDREA: I think it’s the new frontier in teacher preparation. If people understood and could develop registered apprenticeship programs and utilize those strategies in their districts, I think they could see how successful it could be in filling their vacancies and creating a robust pipeline in their own district. 

When you apply, you’re obviously engaging people in your own community. The diversity, I think, comes naturally because you’re pulling from your own community, and then your teacher population begins to mirror your student population. And so I think that’s a very effective way to not only train them but give them quality training and exposure to the profession. 

But we’re also addressing the problem of longevity. For a while, we had people entering the profession from whichever way they entered, and they decided they weren’t, they were coming in under-prepared, so they left within one to five years. So we weren’t getting those roots planted deep enough and giving them the foundation they need to stand up to a long career in education. 

So I think it addresses that. We’re removing barriers, basically. Just like the unpaid internship that they had to face at the end of a licensure pathway, that’s removed. Obviously, we’re letting them earn wages while learning, and a low-cost, no-cost pathway. 

They’re not going to come out with student debt. You’re basically providing all the supports they need to be successful at this and removing the barriers that once existed to even become an educator. 

RYAN: Are there particular partnerships or collaborations that you’ve found to be absolutely vital in developing this program? Who or what organization would be when you say, “We couldn’t have done it without this relationship or this partnership?” 

ANDREA: I think you have to have several strong relationships with registered apprenticeship programs. So we’re the employer and you’re going to have RTI providers, related training and instruction providers, right? So you’re going to have to have partners that are strong higher ed partners because your apprentices are going through institutions of higher ed to get their degrees. 

So you’re going to have a select number of higher ed partners that you work with. Those are going to have to be solid partnerships. And a lot of times people, these are adults working full time. So it has to be flexible, it has to be online, it has to be where they can manage the course loads. 

So all of those things you have to look at. It’s very important to us that we have one point of contact with each higher ed partner, that all of our apprentices go to that one point of contact. They understand our program. We go to that one point of contact so that there’s no confusion. There’s no wasting time. People understand how it works. You have that one point of contact. That’s how we’re going to work. Enrollment and transcript needs and all of that business, right? And tracking for grade status and all of that. Having a strong higher ed partner. 

Making sure their offerings are flexible, that they’re able to pivot with you when you need to pivot, and that you have one point of contact. The Texas Workforce Commission has been amazing to work with here in our area. They’ve been an important partner. They come in and do progress checks with those apprentices that are eligible for their program benefits. And they’ve been a vital part of what we do. So it’s important to really understand who your local workforce board is. Who are those people that you’re going to be in contact with? And how to get that working relationship moving. Also, you are going to need an alternative certification partner. 

So whoever you decide that is and that program is because a lot of your people coming to you, all of them, one of your higher ed partners absolutely could be a traditional university licensure pathway. And if that’s the way you want to take your folks, then absolutely, that’s great. But if one of your partners does not offer a licensure pathway to become a teacher, then you would need an alt cert. 

Or if someone comes to you already degreed, right? We have candidates that come to us already degreed. They’re going to need an alt cert partner. So I would say to have a strong alt cert partner that is highly communicative, that you have one point of contact. Again, very important that they understand your program and you understand theirs and you know that everything works seamlessly. 

Those have been vital in how we work together to get this to be successful. 

RYAN: I ask because we have listeners from school districts around the country, and some of them might be saying, “This sounds great. I’d really like to do something similar in my own community. How do I get started? What are the first steps that I need to do?” If you were advising someone who says, “Andrea, this sounds amazing. How do I begin?” What do you say? 

ANDREA: The first step is going to be getting registered with the Department of Labor, obviously. But that’s just getting registered. That’s paperwork and getting the logistics done, but you’re really going to have to lean into people that understand the landscape of apprenticeships and things of that nature. 

I’d almost say definitely lean into your resources around you that have knowledge of this, or if there’s entities out there that can consult and help with that. Or in school districts like us, we have people reach out to us all the time and we help as much as we obviously can, point them in the right direction. But the first obvious step is going to be getting registered with the Department of Labor to become a true registered apprenticeship because that’s how you unlock the funding that was otherwise unavailable to you prior to that. What does that look like for you? Maybe you just want to start with 10 apprentices and see how that works. So what staffing do you have available for those apprentices? What funding can you potentially unlock? We rotate around the idea of the three Rs, reduce, reallocate, and reinvest. What strategic maneuvers can you make to help make this program a reality in your school district, no matter what size you start? You don’t have to shoot for the moon the first year. You can get your feet underneath you with a smaller number, understanding how that works and looks like in your district because it will look different in every district. 

RYAN: And you said that first year that you began, you learned a lot. I’m guessing you learned a lot from, “Wow, we did this and it worked really well,” and also, “We did this and it did not work well.” What are maybe some things you want to steer clear of as you’re getting this up and running? 

ANDREA: I would say you definitely want to have your partners established. You want to already have those established and those meetings made because you’re talking about everything from direct bills established between the employer and the institute of higher ed and your ACP partner. 

So you definitely want to know and have ironed out all of those pieces with those partners because once you open it up and your apprentices come, because if you build it, they will come. Not only will they come, but they will stay. And so you want to have all those pieces ironed out so that you can point people in the right directions. 

They can navigate it. What positions are they going to go into? What degree pathways are you going to put them in with what higher ed institutions? Definitely have your partners established. Definitely be looking at all of that. How are you going to fund this? 

Those are big pieces. So I think that you have to sit down and look at all those major pieces and make sure those are in place before you even say, “Let’s open this up,” in my opinion, if you want it to run smoothly. And then sometimes with innovation, though, it’s messy. 

Innovation is messy. And so you have to learn to live in that messy space a little bit and be okay with it and say, “Not everything’s going to go perfect, but that’s okay. We’re going to come back and we’re going to make this right and do it differently next time.” Or, “Wow, that worked way better than I even thought it could.” So I think, though, you’re going to have to be open to embracing a little bit of messiness with innovation and just keep that in mind that it’s not going to be perfect all the time. But it is perfectly working for us right now. 

RYAN: There are probably people out there who are saying, “This sounds great, and yet I need something now to solve my challenges in front of me, the staffing issues now.” That makes me ask, what is a realistic timeline between, “Hey, we think this is something we want to do,” and, “Wow, we’re actually seeing this begin to move the needle in our staffing in our district”? 

ANDREA: We went from idea to conception within about six months. I’m not sure that’s something I would recommend unless you have a strong guiding alliance. I would say most districts that we’ve helped lift, it has been pretty much a year. They might start in August with learning how to do it, putting the pieces in place, and then start their launch, their next cohort, the next school year. 

That’s the general timeline we’ve been seeing. Not that it can’t move faster with the right help, but I definitely think that would be a very doable timeline. If I’m telling you I’ve seen it done, I’ve seen it happen with other districts that we have helped lift. 

RYAN: So looking ahead, what would you say are your hopes? What are your plans for the future of this program at Brazosport? And what are you excited about that’s on the horizon? 

ANDREA: My hope is that we are going to not only sustain, but we’re going to grow. We’re one of the biggest, if not the biggest, working apprenticeships in the state of Texas. I say that right now. I feel like we are. And so I feel like we’re only going to get better at what we do, right? 

We’re only going to get more strategic, more communicative, more completely on target with everything. I want to see us grow. I want to see our first-year teachers come out, and I want to see that student data just explode, right? They’re all having great years. 

We already have proof in the pudding that we’re putting out high-quality instructors and our students are doing so well with them. So I want to continue to see that happen because that’s the bottom line. That’s why we do what we do, is to put high-quality instructors in with our kids to help them be successful. That’s our end game. If you ask me what our end game is, that’s always going to be our end game. That’s why this is in place, so that we don’t have to worry, that our students are taken care of every day. 

We know we’ve done everything we can to place a high-quality instructor in that classroom with them. We have a new cohort starting in August. So a new cohort will be joining us in our existing apprenticeship. I’m excited to see what candidates that brings us and get them started and launched. 

It’s always moving, but it’s always moving in a great direction full of energy. Right now, I couldn’t ask for anything better, I guess, right now. 

RYAN: Andrea Dixon is the Director of Talent Acquisition at Brazosport ISD in Texas. And Andrea, I just want to thank you. Your passion’s coming through really loud and clear here. So thank you for speaking with us about this. 

ANDREA: Thank you so much for having me. 

Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education, the leading provider of school administrative software, including Frontline Recruiting & Hiring, built to help you engage job seekers and hire the best candidates. Visit for more information. Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss a thing. 


For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening and have a great day.