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N.C. Teaching Fellows program returns, looking for the next class of future teachers

Peabody Hall houses UNC's School of Education.

Peabody Hall houses UNC's School of Education.

Seven years after being discontinued by the North Carolina General Assembly, the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program will accept a new class of fellows to attend UNC as well as four other North Carolina universities. 

The new iteration of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program will offer up to $8,250 per year to high school students, transfer students and graduate students who commit to teaching in a North Carolina public school in the areas of science, technology, engineering, math and special education.

Eric Houck, an associate professor in the School of Education and a graduate of the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program at UNC, said the new program’s focus on STEM and special education may be limiting to the fellows. 

“I understand the desire to prioritize those areas for preparation, but obviously I think one of the things that made the teaching fellows program unique and successful was that it captured students from across a range of disciplines and allowed them to experience each other and share across their disciplinary interests, so limiting it in this way has the potential to limit its impact on students,” Houck said.

Diana Lys, the assistant dean for Educator Preparation and Accreditation in the School of Education, said they have received over 200 inquiries for the program. She is excited to have a new class of fellows at UNC. 

“Teaching fellows have been known as the best and brightest of teacher candidates, and that’s one of the things we lost with the ending of the old program," Lys said. "We didn’t have that way of recognizing excellence coming into the teaching profession."

The original program ran from 1986 to 2011 and allowed thousands of teachers to graduate from UNC and other host schools with loan forgiveness. These graduates have gone on to work in school districts all over North Carolina and many are now distinguished in their field.

Laura Bilbro-Berry, director of Partnerships and Enrollment Management at the East Carolina University College of Education, graduated from the program at UNC in 1992 and was honored as North Carolina's teacher of the year in 2000.

Bilbro-Berry said she was the first graduate from the North Carolina Teaching Fellowship program as well as the first teacher from the Northeast region of North Carolina to be awarded teacher of the year and that it was a great honor for her.

“I certainly think my experiences with teaching fellows prepared me in that it offered me an exceptional education, but it also offered me a lot of opportunities to interact with different individuals on campus and outside in the professional world of education,” Bilbro-Berry said.

Lys said that reestablishing the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program is a step in the right direction, but she would like to see it improve in the future.

“I hope that we will add more institutions as teaching fellows sites in future years and increase our capacity to prepare high quality STEM and special education teachers across the state,” she said. “I think the fact that the funding has been returned in this new teaching fellows program shows some commitment by our state legislature to hold up education as important to the future of the state.”


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