Back-to-School: Innovative Elementary Education Programs Place More Teachers in Classrooms Across Kentucky

Published on September 01, 2023

By Elise Russell

In Bourbon County, student Hannah Tipton is back to school, preparing for her future teaching career. Tipton works in the classroom as a paraeducator in her home district while pursuing a teacher certification through the Option 9 program at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU). 

New at EKU this fall, Option 9 provides a route to teacher certification for students employed in a participating school district. Students take online courses while teaching as a paraeducator and can complete EKU’s elementary education bachelor’s degree within three years. EKU also launched a 100% online degree in elementary education this fall, further helping to address a teacher shortage.

“EKU has a rich history rooted in teacher education,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “We continue to lead in this field, offering innovative programs that ultimately help to meet a growing demand for well-prepared and qualified teachers throughout the Commonwealth. The reception for these new programs has been strong as we tripled our initial goal of 25 students, with more than 80 enrolled in the online program this fall.”

All candidates in a traditional teacher preparation program in Kentucky must complete 200 hours of observation prior to student teaching, according to Dr. Nicola Mason, professor and chair of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership at EKU. 

Students in the online program are connected with a school district to complete observation and student teaching hours. Because Option 9 students are already working in a classroom, those 200 hours can be completed in the school or classroom where they are currently employed. Students are paired with an advisor for academic support, and a current classroom teacher or clinical educator who observes and mentors them.

“Paraeducators are the heart and soul of many schools. But most paraeducators cannot afford to leave their positions to complete a traditional degree. EKU’s Option 9 brings teacher certification to paraeducators and helps keep them in the classroom while they complete the required coursework,” said Mason. 

For Tipton, working in the school district began soon after she graduated high school in 2021, at a summer enrichment program.

“I just knew after I helped those kids, that this is what I was going to do,” Tipton said.

With her heart set on teaching, Tipton took classes at Bluegrass Community and Technical College while continuing to work with the school district over the summers. When the superintendent told her about the Option 9 program, she jumped at the opportunity to not only get the hours needed to become a teacher, but also get the experience of working in an elementary education classroom. 

“I learn better when someone’s there and I’m experiencing it as it’s happening—it’s more hands-on,” she said. Another benefit, she says, is being able to get paid work hours, making it financially feasible to pay for her college degree.

“It’s going to be a busy year, but I’m going to learn so much, and that’s what makes it really worth it,” she said. 

With the addition of Option 9 and the online elementary education bachelor’s degree, EKU’s elementary education program as a whole is growing. Despite national trends of a nearly 30% enrollment decline in teacher education programs over recent years, EKU boasts a 10-year record enrollment with more than 450 students in elementary education this fall. 

“We’re seeing more and more students pursuing education,” said Mason. “There’s something extremely rewarding about being a teacher, because you see the impact of your work every single day. The positive influence you have on a single life is multiplied thousands of times across a career.” 

EKU was founded as a teachers’ college more than a century ago, and still today, continues its long-standing reputation for excellence in teacher education. Now with new, innovative pathways to elementary education, EKU is helping to address a statewide teacher shortage while helping students achieve their career dreams.  

“A teaching degree from Eastern Kentucky University is more than just a diploma. It’s a statement that speaks to the long tradition of excellence in teacher preparation,” Mason said. “EKU’s reputation of preparing exceptional teachers exists because our programs were developed and are taught by professors and clinical educators with many years of classroom experience who care deeply about their students.”