DECATUR — Ashley Tyler worked as a teaching assistant for four years at American Dreamer STEM Academy and fell in love with teaching.
“I was looking for a career change, but being a mom and working full time, going back to college for four years (to get a teaching degree) didn't seem possible,” Tyler said.
Then American Dreamer Principal Julie Fane told her about Golden Apple.
“One thing that drew me, the website says 'agents of change,'” Tyler said. “That's what it all about, creating educators who want to be agents of change in their districts and classrooms.”
She applied and was accepted, and spent a year at Blackburn College getting her teaching certificate and student teaching. This year, she's teaching second and third grade special education at Dennis School's Mosaic campus.
Golden Apple is a teacher residency program for college seniors not currently on a teaching path and career changers who are college graduates interested in becoming teachers in hard-to-staff content or expertise areas. Golden Apple Accelerators commit to teaching at least four years at a school of need in targeted communities in south, central or western Illinois.
“Golden Apple launched our Accelerators Program to make a material difference in our state’s critical teacher shortage and provide Illinois students with the qualified, passionate, and prepared educators that they deserve," said Golden Apple President Alan Mather. "While none of us could have anticipated the challenges the pandemic would bring, our inaugural cohort of Accelerators has shown true resilience and dedication over the past 15 months. We are immensely proud of Ashley, and all of her fellow Accelerators, and cannot wait to see them excel in their first year of teaching.”
In fall 2020, more than 1,900 teaching positions in Illinois were unfilled, and college and university teacher preparation programs in the state have seen a 50% drop in enrollment. As existing teachers retire, there aren't enough new teachers to take their places. More than half of Illinois students are students of color, yet only 18% of Illinois teachers are people of color. With 3,400 “schools of need” — high-poverty populations — in the state, staffing those schools with people in those communities who will commit to teaching in their own communities has been a hallmark of Golden Apple's mission.
“For me, it's really what I felt passionate about,” Tyler said. “I was a care room teaching assistant, and I really just had a desire to work with students that need extra supports. I love being able to meet one on one with them and be that person for them that they know can come to and rely on. I think it's going to be a perfect fit.”
Tyler grew up in Mount Zion and has a bachelor's degree in psychology. She intended to become an addiction counselor and was for a while, but when she began working as a teaching assistant, she said, she realized that teaching was where she belongs.
She moved to Mount Zion as a fourth-grader, and said that was a hard age to start over and make new friends.
“I had two teachers in particular who influenced me to become a teacher,” she said. "My fourth grade teacher, Carol Eichel, saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. She is my 'why' (become a teacher) and I still talk to her to this day and keep in touch.”
Her sixth grade teacher, Pam Buttz, is another influential teacher from her own student days, and both women, now retired, have a passion for education and building relationships with students.
Tyler has a mentor through Golden Apple who will work with her throughout the first several years of teaching, with regular meetings and monthly professional development sessions.
“I love this district and this community and these students,” Tyler said. “I believe they're worth it. I do what I can to show them that and be the agent of change in this district.”
Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter