In all, 22 students matched with eight rural school districts. Superintendents and school officials were on hand to meet their future teachers.
The TechTeach Across Rural Texas teacher preparation program held a match ceremony Monday (April 29), pairing 22 aspiring rural educators with school districts where they will train for a full academic year.
The group of Texas Tech University students, who are known as teacher candidates after beginning the program, gathered at the College of Education and opened envelopes revealing the district that will be their home base for the rigorous, job-embedded training.
Amber Eason, a 22-year-old transfer student from South Plains College, was matched with Hamlin ISD. Eason grew up in Aspermont, a 900-population town that is a 20-minute drive from Hamlin. Texas Tech's rural teacher preparation program was an opportunity to return to her roots, she said.
"I've always wanted to go back home to teach," Eason said. "I grew up in a small town, and I've always loved the small-town vibe. You know everybody and everybody knows you. I'm really excited to get started in August."
The students matched with eight districts: Brownfield, Crosbyton, Fayetteville, Floydada, Hamlin, Roosevelt, Slaton and Tahoka. Superintendents and officials from all the districts were there to meet their future teachers.
TechTeach Across Rural Texas is a "grow your own" program that prepares teachers specifically for rural school districts, which often struggle to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. Launched in 2018 and funded by a Texas Education Agency grant, the program aims to build a pipeline of teacher talent for rural areas by selecting and training students who already have community ties.
Students enter the program having completed an associate degree, and they can complete a bachelor's degree and earn a teaching certification in just one additional year.
Instead of studying at the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock, students complete coursework and co-teach alongside a mentor teacher at their matched district. A Texas Tech faculty member also based at the district provides coaching and feedback. Teacher candidates agree to return to the district to work full time for three years.
Fayetteville ISD Superintendent Jeff Harvey said the approach is a way for his 250-student district to fill vacancies while competing with nearby urban districts that can pay teachers $6,000 more.
Sandwiched between Austin and Houston, the district also struggles to persuade beginning teachers to choose small-town life over big-city amenities.
"We'd like to grow teachers within our own communities," he said. "Not everybody enjoys being part of a small community, but those that enjoy it tend to stay for a long time."
Harvey pointed to the full academic year of co-teaching alongside a veteran teacher as a key to developing strong teachers. The clinical experience is much longer than the minimum 14 weeks of student teaching required for teacher licensure under Texas law.
Doug Hamman, chair of the Teacher Education Department at Texas Tech, said the extended clinical experience means program completers enter the classroom with the skills, relationships and experiences of a second-year teacher.
"In that year, they learn everything that a new teacher would learn related to how the school runs and their peer teachers and about the kids and the families and the community," Hamman said.
"They get to know the school very well before they ever start working there."
At 450 miles away from the Texas Tech campus, Fayetteville ISD is the most distant program partner. But many partners are near Lubbock, including Crosbyton CISD, which matched with three students Monday and is already home to two teacher candidates who are set to finish the program in May.
At the match ceremony, 20-year-old Kaylee Woolsey was excited to learn Crosbyton CISD would be her home district.
She said a $15,000 stipend offered to teacher candidates attracted her to the program. Her parents earn a modest living working on a ranch and can't help pay for her education, she said. Without the funds, she would have to juggle a full-time job with her coursework and clinical training.
Like many of her peers, Woolsey also grew up in a small town and said she was happy to return.
"I just love the community, and I want to give back to the smaller towns," she said.