Amid teacher shortages statewide, UNC and NC State are helping “lateral-entry teachers” get their teaching licenses while gaining hands-on experience in the classroom.

“My colleagues and NC State and my colleagues at Carolina saw that there’s this great need to have a positive impact in the field immediately through lateral teacher preparation, so we wanted to bring the program to them,” said Diana Lys, Assistant Dean for Education Preparation Programs and Accreditation at UNC. “I think that’s what’s ideal here is we’re going to meet the needs with those lateral entry teachers where they are right now in the field.”

Lys is working with employees of NC State to make an online 12-18 month program for lateral-entry teachers to obtain their teaching licenses.

Lateral-entry teachers are those who majored in something other than education in college, and have experience in that field, but are then hired to fill teaching vacancies with little to no education experience.

Lys said in a perfect world, those vacancies would be filled by those who completed an education program in college.

“It’s not really appealing to us to have so many lateral-entry teachers in classrooms because while they do meet certain standards for the state department of public instruction, and they have a strong content background—they all have to have test scores and degrees in the areas in which they’re teaching,” she said. “They don’t come from a traditional teacher preparation program that’s going to provide them with the knowledge of instruction to children, understanding schools and communities in which they work..”

But, at the same time, Lys said the program is needed. North Carolina employs more than 4300 lateral-entry teachers, according to a 2015 report by the State Board of Education.

She said it’s also an important part of the up-and-coming program to provide coaching and support to these teachers.

“We feel it’s really important that we develop a community that is based in a content area, whether that be science or math,” Lys said.”But also to build community in certain geographic service regions, whether that be a school district or larger region, so that those lateral entry teachers feel that they have a community that’s going to support them as they are learning their craft as being a highly qualified teacher.”

The program will initially offer preparation in these math and science content areas for middle and high schools, with faculty support from both universities. While the program is still in it’s first phase, Lys said they’re focusing on people who have already been hired in teaching positions. But they hope to expand enrollment soon.

“We’re hoping that the ways we connect to recruit lateral entry teachers and the ways that we can engage some funding support for them will include many different layers of community because we all want public education to be as strong as it can possibly be,” she said.

The program will have approximately 50 participants in its first year, but will be designed so it could quickly expand to include modules for lateral entry into special education and elementary education.