It’s difficult for any school in Oklahoma to stay fully staffed, but some positions simply cannot go unfilled.
A lack of special education teachers in Ardmore City Schools has prompted the district to offer a nine-week boot camp for paraprofessionals who want to fill that role. The program was created by Oklahoma Directors of Special Services roughly three years ago. Special Education Director Carolyn Thomas said the course is the equivalent of a graduate study course.
“The state department has access through an online account,” Thomas said. “Anyone who has a degree in any field and wants to become a special ed teacher can attend the boot camp.”
The course is held online, Monday through Saturday, with in-person meetings on Saturdays. Thomas said the fast pace and heavy coursework make it a challenging process. Teachers who complete the process can begin teaching next school year.
“It’s going to be a lot of work on both their part and my part,” Thomas said. “Only the strong will survive, but it is doable.”
Thomas said online courses like this one are widely used in Oklahoma, but they’re a first for ACS. There are currently five employees signed up for the training, all of them degreed paraprofessionals who already work for the district alongside special education teachers.
“If you can teach, you can teach,” Thomas said. “First-year teachers will have a mentor, so they’ll have someone to fall back on. They won’t be left high and dry. There will be some support, some resources they can go to.”
At the end of the course, students submit their grade to the state department and take final assessments to become certified. General education teachers looking to earn a special education certification can take a similar self-paced online course.
“It’s a need for the entire state,” Thomas said. “When I first took this job I had 32 teachers. Now I have 25. That’s stretching it very thin. We need teachers. That’s the story of Oklahoma.”
The boot camp will begin April 2.