Teacher shortage ignites a statewide effort to help aspiring teachers earn their degree for free

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FARMINGTON, N.M. – Across the country public schools have seen a sharp decline in teachers, just last month the National Center for Education Statistics reported that 44% of schools have full-time or part-time vacancies.

New Mexico is not immune to the problem but there are efforts being done to help end the state’s shortage of teachers.

The fate of public school education in New Mexico is not being taken lightly says Alexis Esslinger, Director of Teacher Education Programs at San Juan College.

“Our legislative support in Santa Fe has taken a hard look at what’s going on in the state in terms of teachers and they said what we really need to do is create programs that meet student’s needs,” said Esslinger.

Dean of Western New Mexico University, Dr. Debra Dirksen says at the beginning of this academic year there was a need for nearly 1,500 teachers.

“The positions that were filled, were filled by long term subs. We want to bring back and support traditionally prepared teachers, which this program does and making sure they are fully prepared to meet the needs of New Mexico kids,” said Dirksen.

That program is called TeachUp, it’s a community effort between the legislator, San Juan College and Western New Mexico University to create a pipeline of highly trained educators.

“That’s what we are working towards brining Western to town on San Juan Campus to take (students) from where they’re at with their associate’s degree and continue them on through to complete their teacher’s license in the time frame that works for them,” Dirkson said.

It is also an opportunity to bring more teachers into Farmington schools.

“Let’s find local people who want to be here, that are here, that will stay in our schools, support our children and meet (their) needs because every year you’re a teacher you get better,” Dirksen added.

With $2 million in funding from the state, TeachUp has the ability to award 40 students full scholarships. However, Dirksen said they won’t draw the line there because for anyone who wants to be a teacher, there is funding available for them.