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Rio Salado College’s Educator Prep Program Helps to Fill Need in Education

Tiny teachers with educational tools and stationery Upcoming Teacher in Residence info sessions Tuesday, September 21st Wednesday, October 20th Monday, November 15th

Rio Salado College’s Educator Prep Program Helps to Fill Need in Education

Want to be paid while learning to be a teacher? Rio Salado’s Teacher in Residence program now open

Arizona’s teacher shortage cycles as a headline year after year. A quick Internet search shows dozens of current teacher openings in Arizona, from math to special education to kindergarten and beyond. The trend mirrors a December 2020 report indicating that 28 percent of teacher positions remained vacant halfway through the school year.

Adults in Arizona who hold bachelor’s degrees can not only help fill the gap with proper training, they can do so while they work in the classroom.

The Teacher in Residence program (TIR) allows individuals to teach as the classroom teacher, working on an alternative teaching certificate, while they also work toward standard certification. 

“They get to be in the classroom teaching and earn a teacher salary as a first-year teacher while completing coursework to become a standard certified teacher,” said Dr. Jennifer Gresko, Faculty Chair of Rio Salado’s Educator Prep Programs.

Rio Salado’s TIR program provides mentoring and coaching, as well as lessons on instructional strategies, lesson planning and classroom management. That last piece is one of the first courses TIR students take, said Julie Ferin, Instructional Services Supervisor in Rio Salado College’s Educator Prep Program.

“We know some schools have a program mentoring for new teachers, but not all,” Ferin said. “It’s not created equal. Each school district is a little different. We are able to meet the needs of the students who don’t have that at the school level.”

“Another teacher comes into the classroom and observes what they’re doing and gives them feedback. We try to focus on the coaching piece, especially at the beginning to help them make short- and long-term goals while they’re taking classes along the way.”

The average age of adults who enroll in the TIR program is 37, but Gresko and Ferin said they’ve seen students right out of college as well as recareering adults enroll in the program. Several retirees also apply each year, they said.

Bailee Grieser reflected on her experience in the TIR program.

"Rio's program has really prepared me to be the best possible teacher I can be,” Grieser said. “ I really feel that one of the best ways to learn how to be a teacher is by doing it. I'm so thankful to come out of this program certified and licensed to be a K-8 teacher. Thanks Rio for everything you've done for me these past two years."

Grieser now teaches first grade in the Peoria Unified School District.

Like Grieser, incoming students will be grouped together in cohorts so they can connect with other adults preparing to teach in similar grade levels or similar subjects. They can bounce ideas off one another, as well as test what they’re learning one day directly into the classroom the next, they said.

“There are benefits with that,” Ferin said. “If they’re at a school outside of Maricopa, they may be the only third-grade teacher at a reservation but with a cohort, they have the opportunity to meet with seven, eight, nine other teachers on a regular basis. … we provide webinars where they meet with a program supervisor and cohort to exchange different professional development ideas.”

The program is open to students across Arizona. All students must have a job lined up with a school prior to enrolling, and be able to obtain the alternative certification, a requirement at Arizona public school districts. 

Because the program operates with cohorts, enrollment closes shortly after the start of each typical school year. Applications for the next cohort are scheduled to close Sept. 7. Nearly 100 students have already applied for the two-year program. Dates for the next round of virtual information sessions will be posted online this month. The next cohort begins in early 2022.

To learn more, see the Educator Prep website or email

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