PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- School is back in session, but teacher vacancies remain a concern for districts scrambling to cover classes.

[RELATED: One year after Red for Ed, teacher shortage plagues AZ schools]

Now, Arizona State University is helping offset that teacher shortage while introducing the next educator workforce model.     

Amber Fusco loves teaching kindergarten. She's been doing it for nine years but admits it is not easy.

[SPECIAL SECTION: State of Our School: The search for solutions]

"When you are a teacher in a classroom by yourself with 20 -- almost 30 -- 5-year-olds in the class, it is hard to meet the needs of each and every one of them," she said.

This year she has two classes -- that's nearly 50 kids -- thanks to Arizona's teacher shortage. But Fusco also has help. Robyn Begay and Nicole Davlin, seniors at ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, are working with her as full-time residents or associate teachers.

So instead of one teacher for 30 kids --- these 50 kindergarteners get three teachers.

Fusco is the overall master teacher, while Begay leads one class and Davlin leads the other.

Washington Elementary School District is one of 11 districts in the state participating in the ASU Educator Workforce Initiative. They have 16 associate teachers helping cover several classes districtwide, and still, they started the year seven teachers short.

"You want competition for every job," said Justin Wing, the human resources director at Washington Elementary School District.

That's the hope, but it's not the reality

"There is no competition for every job; at times there is not even an applicant," he said.

But ASU might have the answer. The Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is building what they call the Next Educator Workforce.

Dean Carole Basile says we need to think of education as we do health care, and support the teacher as we do the doctor -- with a team of nurses, residents, and interns.

"We can't keep thinking about where that pipeline is going to come from unless we fundamentally change the organizational structure and systems in schools today," Basile said. "Instead of saying, 'Here's your 30, and your 30,' like we do today, we say, 'Here are the kids. Let's figure out who the adults are that need to be around those kids,' and get them to work as a team across multiple classrooms of kids.'"

She believes that approach will help address the teacher shortage.

"We know teachers who can talk together, plan together, and think together in real-time -- not just before or after school -- stay together, and in the profession, longer," said Basile.

[SPECIAL SECTION: State of Our School: The search for solutions] 

And the experience, thus far, is encouraging to Fusco, a veteran teacher used to flying solo. She also sees how students can benefit from a team of teachers.

"It allows us more time to work with the kids closer and meet the needs that they have," said Fusco. "That's going to be the coolest thing this year -- to see how much growth they make with the support in the classrooms."

 


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