It's no exaggeration to say that South Carolina's Teacher Cadet program has been hugely successful.
Since its trial run during the 1985-86 school year, the program has grown to include 188 high schools and 22 partnering colleges in South Carolina, and thirty-nine other states have followed South Carolina's lead by establishing programs of their own. Nationally, more than 71,000 students have become teacher cadets.
An introduction to teaching, the yearlong course provides an opportunity for high school seniors to earn dual credit while gaining insight into whether they've got what it takes to teach. They learn about cognitive development and effective approaches to teaching, observe teachers at work, interact with students, and teach lessons themselves. If they decide that a career in education is not for them, they can apply the credit they've earned toward any major they choose.
Teacher Cadets are under no obligation to attend the college that partnered with them, although they often do. Forty percent of the cadets with whom Lander University partnered last year now attend Lander, according to Assistant Professor of Education Tamara Pack, who directs the program for Lander.
"That's the highest that it's ever been. That's really exciting," she said.
Pack was a teacher cadet herself, while a student at Chapman High School, in Spartanburg County.
"That was sort of my defining moment, when I realized that I wanted to be a teacher. When I did that class, it just changed my life. It opened my eyes to working with children," she said.
Lander, a college partner since 1999, is currently working with 44 teacher cadets attending classes at Abbeville High School, Calhoun Falls Charter School, Ninety Six High School, and the G. Frank Russell Technology Center, which gets students from Greenwood High School and Emerald.
Renee Silver teaches the Teacher Cadet class at the Russell Center, and has been doing so for 15 years. She calls it one of her favorite classes.
"I love observing my students in classrooms, watching them work with students, and sometimes fall in love with teaching. I also love seeing many of my former students in schools because they are now classroom teachers," she said.
Emerald High School senior Mary Grace Morrow, a student in Silver's Teacher Cadet class, hopes that she will soon be one of those classroom teachers herself.
"Being in this course has allowed me to see my potential, and the impact I can have on the education system," Morrow, whose mother and grandmother are also teachers, said.
She plans on going into early childhood education.
"I'm hoping to attend Lander. They have a good teacher education department, and I can transfer my Piedmont Tech classes as well as my Teacher Cadet class to this school," she said.
Lander's Department of Teacher Education is stepping up its efforts to recruit other promising students into its Teacher Cadet program, according to Pack. Greenwood High School students with grade point averages of 3.0 or better will soon receive invitations to attend a Teacher Cadet dual enrollment night in January.
"And then we're going to go to the other high schools after that," she said.
A series of parent nights are also planned, "where we actually talk to the parents themselves. We've never really done that before."
One of Lander's top recruiting tools is college day, when cadets come to campus, sit in on classes, tour residence halls, visit the Department of Teacher Education, and have lunch alongside Lander students in the dining hall. Because of the pandemic, college day will be virtual this year. Pack hopes a video that education majors are putting together documenting the college experience will succeed in making cadets "feel like Lander students for a day."
South Carolina's Teacher Cadet program began in response to the need for more teachers. With many leaving the profession because of concerns about the pandemic, the need is as great now as it has ever been.
"It's a huge issue," Pack said.