• Program helps teacher assistants earn their teaching credentials 

    Teacher assistants always have their plates full.  From helping out in classrooms to providing extra support as needed around a school, there is always something for them to do. 

    Recently, employees in the Gaston County Schools “Teaching Assistants to Teachers” professional development program were given a chance to take a break from their busy schedules to fellowship with one another.  The teacher assistants are currently balancing a full workload while also taking classes to earn their teaching degree through partnerships with Gaston College, Belmont Abbey College, and Gardner-Webb University. 

    The teacher assistants were treated to a breakfast on October 14 and got an opportunity to get to know their colleagues better since they might not have a time of in-person fellowship due to the online nature of their coursework.  The new program is offered through the Superintendent’s Leadership Academy, and many of the participants said taking advantage of it was a no brainer. 

    “This is my thirteenth year as a teacher assistant,” said Brooke Boukather of Sherwood Elementary School. “It’s always been on my mind that I want to become a teacher, but I had younger children at home, and I just didn’t have the time or money to pursue a teaching degree.  So, when I heard about this program, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity.” 

    Wanda Marlowe, a kindergarten teacher assistant at Catawba Heights Elementary and a former Gaston County Teacher Assistant of the Year, said she is the most excited about being able to finally call a classroom her own when she completes the program.

    “Teacher assistants do a lot,” Marlowe said. “But, I just want to have my own classroom, with my own imprint and the ability to make teaching my own.” 

    Before the breakfast was over, the group was asked to stand up to share a “glow” about their week – something positive that had happened in their classroom – with everyone else. 

    “Teacher assistants can have a lot going on and finding that balance can be hard,” said Jada Alexander of Mount Holly Middle School to the crowd of her colleagues. “But, when a student emails you and thanks you for teaching them, it’s all worth it.” 

    Forty teacher assistants, who currently work for Gaston County Schools, were selected for the program through an application and interview process.  The program participants should be able to complete a bachelor’s degree in about two years, which means by the start of the 2024-2025 academic year, they will be ready to transition from teacher assistant to elementary school classroom teacher.

    It is estimated that completion of the degree program could cost up to $20,000 per person.  However, Gaston County Schools is working with its three partners in education to cover expenses for tuition, books, and materials.

    According to Superintendent of Schools W. Jeffrey Booker, the “Teacher Assistants to Teachers” program is one way that Gaston County Schools is addressing the ongoing teacher shortage, which is affecting schools across the country.

    Dr. Booker stated, “Through the ‘Teacher Assistants to Teachers’ program, we are investing in our own, which is extremely important to retaining quality employees.  We have outstanding teacher assistants who already know what it is like to support students, be in a classroom setting, and handle many school-related responsibilities.  This program gives them an opportunity to take their work in the education profession to the next level.”

    “It made sense for us to work with Gaston College, Belmont Abbey College, and Gardner-Webb University to create a program that prepares today’s teacher assistants to become tomorrow’s certified classroom teachers,” added Dr. Booker.  “We are looking forward to the day when the teaching assistants in the program walk into their own classroom and take their well-deserved spot at the head of the class.”