Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Nathan Carter played football for four years at Las Vegas High, four years at UNLV and even one year on an independent-league indoor football team in Kansas before he realized he wanted to be a teacher.
“I was a team captain, so it was part of my job to make sure people knew what to do,” said the former linebacker. “Teaching to me is the same thing. You’re just helping lead [students] to where they’re performing and where they feel good about themselves.”
Carter, 27, had a few semesters of substitute teaching under his belt, but he had one problem: He graduated with a bachelor’s in communications, not in education, the traditional path to becoming a full-time educator.
So he enrolled in Sierra Nevada College’s alternative route to licensure program a few years ago, and in doing so inadvertently became one of the state’s most valuable commodities: someone who wants to be a teacher.
The teacher shortage in Nevada, which is showing no signs of slowing down, is as bad as it is in large part because students like Carter are in short supply. More and more students are choosing not to study education, stemming the once-abundant flow of teachers coming out of the nation’s colleges and putting pressure on school districts to find other ways of keeping classrooms staffed. Nationally, college and universities award around 40 percent fewer education degrees now than they did 30 years ago.
Only a few hundred teachers are produced by the state’s education departments each year, well below the thousands of empty teaching positions that the Clark County School District has to fill each year alone.
One of the few bright spots for the state has been ARL programs like the one Carter attends, which give those without an educational background a fast-track to certification. A number of colleges and school districts currently offer ARL programs including UNLV, CCSD and Washoe County Schools.
But the programs can be difficult to navigate for students, many of whom have left careers in other fields and already have homes, families and other responsibilities.
“It’s a struggle to work all day and give attention to whoever you live with, and on top of that complete coursework, tests and study,” Carter said. “The biggest obstacle is time management and figuring out how to keep yourself from being so tired you don’t get anything done.”
Going to Sierra Nevada College saves Carter a lot of money compared to bigger schools like UNLV, but until this year state incentives for ARL programs have been almost nonexistent.
Amid growing fears about the teacher shortage at the Legislature earlier this year, lawmakers passed millions of dollars in scholarships for ARL students. Students who are chosen for the scholarships could receive a maximum of $3,000 per semester. They would get 75 percent of it up front, and receive the remaining amount if they teach in Nevada for five years.
Unfortunately for Carter, he won’t be eligible for the scholarships because he’s already in an ARL program, though he gives a knowing chuckle when asked whether they would make a difference.
“Anything helps,” he said. “I think it’s a really great thing.”
The scholarships also are a boon to the schools themselves. Sierra Nevada College, which is headquartered in Incline Village at Lake Tahoe with a satellite campus in Henderson, was approved for 20 scholarships. But officials say it could handle a lot more.
“We could easily triple that a semester with our enrollment,” said Beth Bouchard, assistant dean of education at SNC. “Our intent is to grow this program as large as we can because the need is so great.”
A total of $5 million in scholarships will be doled out over the next two years. The Nevada State Board of Education voted two weeks ago to approve the funds, which will net around 134 new teachers by fall 2016.
The program will expire in 2017, when the Legislature next meets, unless lawmakers decide to renew funds once again.