Author: Jessie Holmes
Madeleine Salazar’s first day as a third-grade teacher could not have come at a more critical time. In the fall of 2021, COVID-19 cases were back on the rise, masks and social distancing continued, and virtual learning had taken a toll. Teacher vacancies exploded.
“That's essentially why I was given that opportunity to have my own classroom, because so many teachers had left,” says Salazar.
She had recently joined the Chapel Hill-Carborro City Schools TA to Teach program, which provides tuition and technical support to help teacher assistants obtain education degrees and complete their licensure requirements. Usually, participants train for two years. But Salazar, who had been a TA for 16 years and already held a non-education bachelor’s degree, was granted a temporary teaching license.
“The whole school supported me so much through that transition,” says Salazar. “But it was hard.”
While teaching and studying full time and raising two children as a single mom, Salazar was almost across the finish line in 2023 when she faced one more barrier. Sitting for the licensure exams cost several hundred dollars each, which she had to put on credit cards. It’s why she felt immense relief to qualify for TeachNC’s new financial aid program, which includes up to $500 in reimbursements for exams and test prep. Beyond the money, she also felt appreciation for her hard work.
“It’s like this encouragement of we know you’re doing this, so we want to help you,” says Salazar. “We want you to do this for the students.”
Investing in the Teacher Pipeline
Nearly 3,500 aspiring educators have qualified for similar financial support since June 2023, when Governor Roy Cooper’s administration launched the initiative. It’s funded by $3 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds, a grant awarded by Congress to each state’s governor to help address the effects of COVID-19 on education. The program is administered by TeachNC in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), and with oversight from the North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office.
“We were already in a teacher shortage and the pandemic put us even further behind the eight ball,” says Gabrielle Barnes, Senior Regional Program Manager for TeachNC.
TeachNC serves as a one-stop-shop for North Carolinians interested in pursuing a career in teaching. Tools include 1-on-1 coaching, reimbursements for application costs, scholarships, and resume guides. Barnes says the GEER funds provided by the Governor’s Office will help them support even more teachers in completing the licensure process.
“The exams are hard enough as it is, and we don't want finances to be an additional barrier,” says Barnes.
Exam Reimbursements, Vouchers, and Free Test Prep Available
Those who qualify for the program can pick and choose from a buffet of resources for a total of up to $500. There are multiple options available to help prospective or new teachers no matter where they are in the licensure process, including:
- Reimbursements for what they’ve already spent on teaching license exams, such as the Pearson, PPAT, EdTPA, or the Praxis.
- Vouchers to cover future exam fees.
- A Study.com license to gain access to free, online test prep materials and certification courses.
Demand has remained strong since applications first opened. In less than a year, TeachNC has awarded two-thirds of the allocated funds, with $1 million still available through September 2024.
TeachNC Program Will Impact Generations of Students
The program’s success demonstrates a real need among future educators at a time when North Carolina needs them more than ever. An investment in teachers like Salazar will positively impact generations of students, helping them grow academically, socially, and emotionally so they can eventually pursue careers and families of their own. Fortunately, she plans to stay at Rashkis Elementary School in Chapel Hill for a long time.
“I mean, I did 16 years as a TA and I loved it,” says Salazar. “I might just be here for another 16 years.”
After that, when her children are older, she says she may begin working on a new goal: principal.