How Loudoun Co. created student-to-teacher pipeline, helping address teacher shortage

Loudoun County Public School’s Teacher Cadet program is seeing an increase in enrollment, school officials said at Tuesday’s board meeting, helping the Virginia school system address a teacher shortage by creating a pipeline to hire former students.

The program was launched at Park View and Potomac Falls high schools during the 2002-03 school year, and included 34 future educators, spokesman Dan Adams said. There weren’t any Teacher Cadet programs in the state prior to 2002.

Starting next year, the Teacher Cadet program will be offered in 14 of the county’s 18 high schools, according to Lynn Caldwell, a Human Resources and Talent Development recruiter with the county. Enrollment in the program is also increasing, with 236 students enrolled in the 2022-23 school year, up from 157 in 2021-22, according to a presentation shared with the school board.

Sophomores and juniors can apply for the program, which requires a minimum 2.7 GPA, two recommendation letters and some type of student-created response, such as a presentation, essay, drawing or video. It’s designed to help students who may be interested in becoming teachers explore teaching as a career path.

The juniors and seniors in the program get real-world experiences, the opportunity to shadow current Loudoun teachers and intern in Loudoun elementary and middle school classrooms. Students who finish a course or the program receive a letter of intent. Seniors who sign that letter and complete a four- to six-year educational program are then offered a job in the county.

“LCPS is a step ahead of other counties in recruitment during a teacher shortage,” teacher Julie Cooper told the school board this week. “Via this program, LCPS students are several steps ahead of their peers by being able to go into the field their junior and senior years of high school, rather than their junior and senior years of college.”

The program, Cooper said, gives students the opportunity to explore teaching as a profession and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse “at no risk.”

Julie Simanski plans to attend George Mason to study early childhood education this fall.

“I learned so much about education, and it confirmed — every year it got better and better — that I truly did want to become a teacher,” Simanski said.

Sydney Luc said the program “opened a whole new door to experiences that a lot of classrooms in high school don’t offer.”

The school system has received 118 letter of intent signatures this year and almost 400 since 2020.

“If you only crunched the numbers, it may look like a loss — if your only goal is to sign future teachers,” Cooper said. “The Teacher Cadet program is designed for more.”

For student Anna Reed, the program also exposed her to some challenges educators face.

“One of the most challenging things was a lack of time to prepare for lessons that I saw for some teachers,” Reed said. “Classroom management was also very hard, walking into the classroom for the first time.”

The experience, Cooper said, is valuable, regardless of whether students become teachers.

“Being able to experiment with as many of your interests as possible in high school, so you can narrow down your real potentials, serves everyone in the realm of time, money, stress, anxiety, all that,” Cooper said.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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