Virginia State University to Address the Petersburg Teacher Shortage

The Virginia State University College of Education has announced a new teacher residency program to help with Petersburg's teacher shortage and provide future educators with an immersive educational experience.

Finding quality teachers has been a struggle for Petersburg in recent years, much like for schools nationwide. When Petersburg realized some of their K-12 classrooms would be overcrowded this upcoming school year, they came to VSU seeking stellar students interested in doing an early teacher residency. In August, the HERO program was born.

HERO, or Hybrid Education Residency Opportunity, is a comprehensive and innovative program that combines coursework and practical teaching in an actual classroom setting.

In total, five VSU students are participating in the HERO program for the 2023-2024 school year. When classes officially start on Tuesday, September 5, students will not only be expected to lead their own class like professionals but also stay up-to-date with their coursework at VSU.

Fortunately, courses through the university will be asynchronous, giving students plenty of time outside of Petersburg school hours to complete their assignments. Each student will also have a designated assistant to help with classroom management and answer questions. Another key benefit of the program is that students will be compensated for their work, receiving the same pay as a long-term substitute.

"This program allows our students to get early training in the profession that they want to enter," said Dr. Willis Walter, Dean of the College of Education. "They are making real connections and learning things in the classroom that you can't just get out of a book."

"There are so many programs that fail because they only prepare students for short-term success," Walter continued. "However, this program will allow students to build relationships with students, parents, and other teachers while gaining knowledge and experience to be successful long-term."

To participate in the HERO program, VSU students must have a B grade average and be proactive members of other university programs designed for teachers.

Among those who met the qualifications were seniors Tommy Prince and Cameron Chambers. Prince is an English major getting his minor in Secondary Education. He will be leading a 12th-grade English class at Petersburg High School.

"I was nervous at first, but after I learned more about the program and spoke with teachers I'd be working with, I was much more comfortable accepting the opportunity," said Prince. "The best way to learn is through experience, so being able to do this while in school will only benefit me after I graduate."

Meanwhile, Chambers is getting her degree in Elementary Education after being inspired by having her grandmother as a babysitter growing up. As Chambers got older and started her babysitting journey, she became fascinated by the reaction she got from teaching kids new things.

"I just fell in love with it," Chambers said. "I love it when you teach a kid a new thing, and their eyes light up; it is just so fascinating to me, and I always knew I wanted to be a teacher."

Now, Chambers has the opportunity to lead her own Kindergarten class at Cool Spring Elementary. The decision was a no-brainer for Chambers as she knew she would not only be getting hands-on experience but could also directly apply what she learned in her academic studies.

"We're able to implement what we're learning in class immediately, so it's really cool," she said. "I immediately said yes to the opportunity because I really wanted to get into the classroom and get started on my field experience."

As the HERO program continues to expand and evolve, VSU will do its part to alleviate the local teacher shortage. Meanwhile, the next generation of educators will leave the university equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience to excel in their future teaching careers.