The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 225 Transcript

Jennifer Gonzalez, Host

GONZALEZ: We’ve been hearing about a teacher shortage for a while now, certainly since the pandemic, and multiple studies show that many states are seeing record high numbers of teacher turnovers and vacancies. In episode 190, we explored some of the big reasons why teachers are leaving the classroom, so we won’t go into them here. Suffice it to say there are big problems, especially in some states, and those problems have not really gone away yet.

However, there are groups of smart, highly motivated people out there who are coming up with some creative ways to address this situation, new and surprisingly affordable pathways for training good, enthusiastic teachers. And I can’t think of a better person to dig into that with me than my guest today, Kimberly Eckert. 

Kim is the dean of Oxford Teachers College at Reach University, an online program that offers job-embedded undergraduate degrees and teacher preparation programs for current school employees — paraeducators, teaching assistants, and other school staff members who already love and know the kids in their communities and just need a little more training and education to become certified. She is also the former state coordinator for the Louisiana chapter of Educators Rising, a national grow-your-own program that nurtures middle and high school students who want to become teachers. In this episode, Kim and I talk about how and why both of these outstanding programs work. My hope is that everyone listening will either know someone who might benefit from one of these programs, or that you’ll be inspired to pass this information along to someone who can support the growth of these programs in your area.

Before I play our conversation, I’d like to thank Edge•U Badges for sponsoring this episode. Are you seeking a professional development experience that truly resonates with your teaching journey? Discover Edge•U Badges – your destination for personalized, flexible learning. Choose from a library of over 270 badges aligned with the ISTE Standards for Educators. Whether you’re looking to enhance classroom engagement, integrate technology, or sharpen those tier 1 instruction skills, Edge•U badges covers it all. It’s straightforward: select badges that align with your goals, learn at your own pace, and celebrate your progress. Each badge you earn is not just a symbol of achievement, but a stepping stone toward practical classroom applications and improved student outcomes, and every badge you earn can be redeemed for valuable contact hours or even graduate credit. Visit today — that’s e-d-g-e-u-b-a-d-g-e-s — and use the code CULT for $20 off a premium account. Join Edge•U Badges now, where your passion for teaching meets the joy of learning.

Support also comes from EVERFI. Everyone remembers THAT teacher. The study hall teacher who walked you through your first college application. The social studies teacher who taught you what taxes were AND how to file them. The math teacher who used student loans to show you how interest worked. YOU can be that teacher—and EVERFI wants to help you make that kind of impact with FREE digital lessons for K thru 12 students. From budgets and banking to credit and savings, you’ll find a financial literacy topic that’s right for your classroom. And especially during April, Financial Literacy Month, there’s no better time to equip students with smart decision-making around finances. Learn how you can share these FREE resources with students and give them a financial foundation that lasts a lifetime. Just go to That’s Cult of Pedagogy dot com slash e-v-e-r-f-i.

Now here’s my conversation with Kim Eckert about Reach University and Educators Rising.



GONZALEZ: So happy to have you on. We have been already talking a lot since I started recording, but I figured we might as well get started and we just met, like, up, two weeks ago. Less than two weeks ago, I think, yeah. Or something like that. We met at South by Southwest. Tom Rademacher introduced us at a really fun dinner with us and a whole bunch of other cool people. And I feel like we, I don’t know. I just feel like we got each other immediately, which was really cool.

ECKERT: We did. I can’t stop smiling, like even now. 

GONZALEZ: And he was, he was absolutely like bragging on you big time. He said, you know, you, and Sara Brown Wessling too, they were just like, “She does everything and does all the things, and she never sleeps.” And you were, you confirmed that, that you never sleep. And so let’s first just start, before we get into some of these really cool things that you’ve been doing, a little bit about your background, who are you as an educator, and how did your background sort of lead to what you’re doing now?

ECKERT: Okay. We’re going to dive right in. I think this is, like, every teacher’s favorite question, the origin story of greatness.


ECKERT: Okay. So I have to start at the beginning. Like, I really, truly do, like birth. No, not really birth, but it is important to know, I’m from Louisiana, grew up on a bayou. I’m Cajun. All these things really matter. Identity, right? My parents didn’t graduate high school, so that’s an important thing, and that’s not uncommon for my area at all. And so the idea of going to college or doing anything, it was so much bigger than me, and all I’ve really ever set out to do is just help. I just want to help, right. And that’s kind of the lofty goal of a child. I don’t know that it’s ever changed. And so I became a social worker before I became a teacher. I actually put my teachers on a total pedestal. I’m like, “I’m not good enough to be a teacher. I could be a social worker. I can do that.” And then there did come a point where I started to sort of covet the relationships that teachers would have with students. Like, you have them every day? You have them 180 days. Like, what can I do if I got to see kids 180 days of the year, because I just didn’t feel like I was changing the world quite fast enough. Wonderful career, wonderful work, but I needed to be literally, for lack of a better phrase, in the room where it happens, and for me that was kids.


ECKERT: And so, you know, everything else is just a journey from there. I guess sort of the social work aspect that I brought into it, it was work yourself out of a job and no problem’s too big, especially whenever you’re helping other people become part of what’s solving the problems. And I think that that’s a pretty exciting thing that whenever you look at a classroom with every single child, every single human being, is the solution to some problem. And that’s just an amazing, amazing thing to be a part of. So that was more like the teacher story, but I know that we’re going to dive a little bit deeper into the other things.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. Well you, eventually, what kind of a teacher did you become? Let’s start with that.

ECKERT: A special education teacher.


ECKERT: Oh my gosh. Yeah, that’s my jam. Some people daydream of the beach. I literally daydream about getting back in a classroom again and hanging out with kids. So special education, and even with social work I did a lot of mental health advocacy. I dabbled in law school mental health advocacy, just always been super interested in the way and the beauty of the human brain and how it works and helping to sort of de-stigmatize and bring opportunities and accountability. Because it’s again, that whole idea, what could we be doing as humans if people would stop limiting us? And so whenever I decided to go into the classroom, I want to go where I knew that I’d be needed the most, and just, I’m super jazzed about teaching period. Because I was doing work statewide with social work, I knew exactly which school. It was a school in Port Allen, Louisiana, that had super high needs, a community that didn’t have many resources. It’s like, I want to be there, and I want to have a special education classroom. But of course, you know, this was like 2008 in a, it’s been a minute since I’d been in school, and so I didn’t know that inclusion was a thing, which made it that much more exciting. So it looked different than I thought it would look, but it was super rad to get to stay with my kids all day throughout all these classes. So that was the kind of teacher that I was and really still am. I’m only really good at anything else because I’m a really good SPED teacher.

GONZALEZ: So you taught for a chunk of time, but then at some point, you started training teachers or you started working with paraprofessionals?

ECKERT: Yeah, I did. Yeah.

GONZALEZ: But you were doing it on an, in an informal way at first, right?


GONZALEZ: Well, what did that look like?

ECKERT: I’ve been teaching 16 years, and one of the benefits I think of working in a school or in a district that’s rural and that has a lot of needs, by year three, I was like, the one to ask, which is pretty sad if you think about how specialized teaching is. So I’ve actually been coaching teachers and working with teachers for 13 of the 16 years that I’ve been a teacher. And then we fast forward, anything I learn I want to share it because that’s what teaching is. So it’s like if I’m going to go into all this student loan debt and get all these degrees, what can I do to help, right? And so over the years, because I started off as a special education teacher, I was indebted to paraeducators around me. But I also, it’s like, you know, the social justice aspect of who I am, I feel like we were really exploiting the talents of special education paras specifically, but also really EL aides, any classroom aide. They don’t get paid very much, and I’ve always been in a rural area. I have never known a school to be staffed the way that it should be. So I’ve always seen paraprofessionals as being the teacher of record, but they’re still getting $12 an hour being reading interventionists. Look, I’m a reading specialist and they’re in the classroom next to me getting paid $12 an hour. And then the worst part of all is that we’re often disappointed with what they’re able to do, but we’re not helping them solve problems. We’re not equipping them with the tools. We’re not helping remove barriers to get college degrees for them, and we’re expecting so much. So I started to work with them on a monthly basis, like literally putting together PD, like convince the district, can you just give me three hours? Like, let me just do a workshop. You don’t have to do anything else. And we started with the basics about neurodiversity and what are disabilities, and this is an IEP. Oh, you’ve never seen an IEP but kids have been biting you for 10 years. It was just that, and then over time I basically developed 65 friends from this group, and the rest is sort of history, I think.

GONZALEZ: Okay, all right. So, you’re sort of informally helping them.


GONZALEZ: So what you and I are going to be talking about are these two different programs that are offering a pathway to education that is probably different from how a lot of people listening were trained. And so before we start talking about these two programs that you are such a big fundamental part of, what do you think more traditional teacher prep programs are missing?

ECKERT: That is a very heavy question. I’m also not a traditionally trained teacher. I was trained as a social worker, so I went through an alternative certification program. So I can’t pretend that I’ve been through traditional training. What I can say is that we’re certainly not an expert of traditional ed prep. Like I said, I’ve also been an instructional coach or a master teacher or mentor delving in those areas for 13 years. And so in that time, I’ve realized that it often doesn’t matter much if the new teacher I was working with came from an alt cert program or if they came from a traditional program. So I would never enter the fray of conversation about the quality or whatever it is in either one. I only know that as a coach, it really didn’t play out very much in what a new teacher needed from me. And so that was pretty interesting. And so, you know, take that however you might, but as a coach, work was work. It still came down to sort of the aptitude and the agency of the teacher, and they still needed help with lesson planning and backward design, and they still needed help with classroom management and understanding culture. So it’s interesting. You have this one who was trained for four years to do this. You have this one who was trained in another field, and yet, I still have the same work whenever it came to PLC or cluster or coaching them. So I’ll just put that out there for you.

GONZALEZ: It sounds, it sounds like what you’re saying is you couldn’t necessarily tell a difference. If you hadn’t known about their background, you may not have been able to tell based on their level of knowledge and confidence with the work.

ECKERT: Yeah. I often didn’t. And now there’s definitely some programs that, and it’s not just me but like the word on the street, if someone was graduating from Program A, oh, let’s get that one. And then there were some where it’s like, eh, you know, it’s fine, in our coaching circles. But yeah. So that, I don’t know that anything’s missing in terms of the preparation. I think what is and has always been missing are enough people eliminating the barriers, the access that has kept so many people out. I think that’s what’s missing.


ECKERT: And that’s what I really started to uncover the more I started to work with paraprofessionals, like paraeducators in the field. Not so much that the program was missing anything, but that if someone never got to enter it, it doesn’t matter.

GONZALEZ: Got it. So it’s really more about access and opening the doors a little wider to get a broader range of people in to get started?

ECKERT: I think so.

GONZALEZ: And that is going to lead us to talking about the first of the two programs that we’re going to talk about. So first we’re going to talk about Educators Rising, which I’ve heard you refer to in shorthand as Ed Rising.


GONZALEZ: And this is a national thing that you actually started a chapter of in Louisiana?

ECKERT: Yeah. 

GONZALEZ: So tell me about the larger organization of Ed Rising. What is it? What makes it different from other programs? And what was your part in bringing it to Louisiana?

ECKERT: Okay. So Educators Rising itself, and these are things, they’re not spoilers. You could find them out on the website, right. But it, it’s an arm of PDK International.

GONZALEZ: Just Phi Delta Kappa, correct?

ECKERT: Exactly, yes.


ECKERT: Just for ongoing continuing learning and research for educators. Also something kind of interesting about it is that its new manifestation is Educators Rising, but it also is Future Teachers of America and Future Educators of America. It literally rebranded because the efficacy of those programs, it was dwindling. We weren’t getting more people into seats simply because they had a program that was Future Teachers of America. So if you look at the entire timeline, it’s the same organization, but what happened in about 2015, it was this idea like, whoa, today’s kids, like the ones sitting in classrooms right now, we need to reach them in different ways. And so, No. 1, Educators Rising is a grow your own program geared at recruiting and supporting the next generation of teachers while also elevating teaching to make this generation, Gen Z, want to be teachers, like sort of rewriting, flip the script of what does it mean to be a teacher so that they are interested. And I could go on for days just the research about how incredibly special and unique this generation is and why I want to steal them all to be teachers, because they just got it. They’ve got what it takes. And so that’s the organization nationally, and it takes place, in terms of clubs and classes, like there’s a curriculum for it. So how much a space might engage is truly up to them because it’s a grow-your-own.

GONZALEZ: Okay. It’s high school?

ECKERT: It’s high school and middle school. There are definitely some middle school chapters as well.

GONZALEZ: Okay, okay.

ECKERT: And so that’s sort of the big picture, and then I can tell you the Louisiana story, which is pretty good.

GONZALEZ: Let’s hear it, yeah.

ECKERT: All right. And you’ll find this is such a trend with me. Teachers wear multiple hats. I’ve been in dual positions for almost as long as I’ve been teaching, like still teaching in an actual brick and mortar school but also reading work. Again, I think it’s the benefit of being in a rural area. Like you can have all the jobs and no one really tells you you can’t.


ECKERT: Which is exciting. And so I was teaching, I was an English teacher. I had a baby. I had just birthed. But I was also doing a lot of recruiting, and I was a mentor, an instructional coach, all the things. And so for years, I realized that No. 1, work had a teacher shortage. That’s not a massive thing. Even before COVID made it sexy, if you’re in rural spaces or urban spaces, you’re going to know that, that there’s a lot of folks who have never had access to a steady stream of highly skilled teachers. So there was that piece. And then also, as a Black woman, realizing there weren’t very many of us. I represented the diversity in terms of racial diversity in a lot of spaces that I was in. So I’m like, we don’t have a diverse pipeline. We barely have a pipeline. What can we do about this?


ECKERT: So I start to kind of look at things that had been tried before, like Teacher Cadet or Louisiana had something called the Star Program. And I was really interested in finding out well, if we had it already, why didn’t it work? And so like I told you, I’m only good at anything because I’m such a good SPED teacher, really did a thorough landscape analysis, needs assessment and reached out on my own dime, kind of drove everywhere and put myself in places to learn. Because it’s like I didn’t see a whole lot of energy in this space, this teacher shortage. This was 2017, I think. So 2018, I decided that Educators Rising was the route I was going to go in my community.

GONZALEZ: Hold on. Let me interrupt you, because you said you drove around on your own dime and went to places to see what went wrong. What did that actually look like? Were you sitting in classrooms? Were you looking at, what were you actually observing?

ECKERT: Yeah, so in the beginning, I was talking to a lot of spaces in higher education learning that there wasn’t a whole lot of recruitment going on. Like, just things that, well, are we recruiting for teachers? No, actually, as it turns out. We just kind of get whoever shows up. So learning that. I didn’t want to make assumptions. I wanted to go in with a completely blank understanding and fill my knowledge, right? Like seek first to understand. And then talking to schools who had implemented programs who currently had some twilight, like a flickering of programs that took off but didn’t really have good grounding statewide. Well, how’s it going? Are you actually producing young teachers? Is it working? Are people majoring in education? I also visited an Educators Rising site in California to kind of learn what does this look like? So it was a lot, a lot of groundwork, because that is something. I know that sometimes in life we only really get one shot, and you need the momentum for that. And so it’s like if I’m going to do this at all, I want to do it right, I want to do it well, and I don’t want to end up retrofitting at the end. And I didn’t have pressure because no one was making me do this. I just wanted more teachers and a more diverse pipeline in my community.


ECKERT: So fresh. There really wasn’t any, any bad habits to break or any way to fail.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. And so what, what were you learning from all of that sort of independent recon that you were doing? What assumptions or conclusions did you come to?

ECKERT: Oh, and my self-nominated statewide surveys that I deployed. My questions with LDOE. I learned so much because there were a lot of plates spinning. The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know. So at any given time, plate spinning with universities, plate spinning with peers on the ground, plate spinning trying to understand Gen Z, trying to understand why do we have a teacher shortage, when did this actually happen? And then I started to do some work with trying to elevate the teaching profession. Like, oh, you don’t want to be a teacher because everybody’s telling you not to. So it was just so much to understand. And I knew that if I didn’t take the time to understand all of the stories and all of the reality that I was going to miss pieces, and I was going to miss voices. So I probably spent a year just trying to understand the current landscape. And also I wasn’t naive enough to think that as I experienced it was the only way it could be experienced. And so that was important to me as well. And then from there, there was so much more nitty gritty, but we don’t have enough time because everything sounds so easy whenever you’re looking back. It was not easy. So I’ll suffice it to say that we could jump through the story. It started with, you know, 17, 21-ish kids in my area and then as of this past March, we have a few thousand in the state, probably eight collegiate partnerships. Gosh, a pre-educator pathway from the department. So I’m telling you where it ended up because all of those things needed to happen, but I never really set out for it to be that large within the state. Truly, it just, for me, was if I can, if I can encourage two or three young people to stick with this profession and come back, that’s two or three we wouldn’t have had. I could let four years go by and do nothing or I could let four years go by and we get a teacher that comes back.


ECKERT: And so it’s, that’s been a super beautiful arc of seeing a long game actually yield a really good results.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. So after you did all this research, you kept circling and you found Educators Rising and you decided this is, this is what I think is going to work for Louisiana.


GONZALEZ: So what was it about their approach that really appealed to you?

ECKERT: So one piece of it was not trying to reinvent wheels. So if there’s already a network, because one thing that we’ll find ways that things have sort of flopped in the past is that there’s not a big enough footprint. If you have this one splash and you have this splash, then things just sort of fizzle. You need a lot to make a spark, and then make a fire. And so I like that it was a national organization because that’s something I could play around with. There was also a curriculum so that if spaces couldn’t start from the ground up, they could opt to have this curriculum or integrate anything that they were already doing. So those things were, in the beginning, important to me, and then the way that it was written, it really was written to appeal to Gen Z so the idea of social justice, of using the classroom as a means for change, literacy as a means for change, exposure as a means for change. And so I thought that that was an amazing thing, and then being a classroom teacher, being an all-day English teacher, I was like, yeah, because I also had my students test these things with me. I was never in a vacuum throughout any of this. In fact, I figure my first team was that first team of 17 kids because they literally were right there with me testing things out, testifying at the Department of Education. I did nothing without those kids. And so they also gave it the stamp of approval. And I’ve piloted other things too. I was also teaching like a dual enrollment class, Intro to Ed, many different things. And it was important to me because I’m a strategist, I’m a great teacher, right. I am the control, so if I’m teaching this curriculum with fidelity, I am the one teaching dual enrollment with fidelity. This one made six kids want to be teachers. This one made no kids want to be teachers. Which one am I going to go with? Because at that point, it couldn’t be, well, you’re just the teacher and you smile a lot and you laugh a lot. Those things are true. That’s not enough to make somebody want to dedicate their life to serve kids.

GONZALEZ: Right. So you found that the Educators Rising, their curriculum was actually, it made high school students want to become teachers more?

ECKERT: Yeah. Because it allowed them to engage in ways. Like, you know, a cute bulletin board is great. Understanding poverty and that education is a great unifier and it eliminates divisions between us. That is a jazzy story for young people.

GONZALEZ: Yes, yes.

ECKERT: And so that, it even changed our recruiting structure in ways that even national Educators Rising is now using. You can’t be like, hey, come to the teacher meeting and have free pizza. Nobody cares about your pizza because nobody wants to be a teacher. You could pay them and they won’t come to the meeting.


ECKERT: How do I know? Because I’ve now started like 40 schools by hand. Pizza does not get them there, but shifting the message, do you want to change the world? Do you want to have a lasting impact? Do you want to be remembered forever? Do you want to be the change in your community? Come to this meeting in Room 103. Let’s see what’s popping.


ECKERT: Then we’re getting somewhere.


ECKERT: So yeah. Totally kind of changing the game on how we recruit, why we recruit, and yeah, I love this profession so much but I also love our young people and I didn’t want to sell them a lie. And so I helped them make their own truth in that, and that’s been incredible work. A hobby, hobby work.


ECKERT: Volunteer over here.

GONZALEZ: It’s all volunteer. Okay.

ECKERT: It totally is.

GONZALEZ: So you have started, you said, 40, is that clubs or classes?

ECKERT: Well, there’s more than that now.


ECKERT: Those were just those initial ones with me in my old car just putt putting through Louisiana, putting mileage and credit card debt.

GONZALEZ: Oh my gosh.

ECKERT: Yeah. But the good news is that empowering spaces to do what I did, like I don’t hold secrets. Like, here’s the thing. Let me teach you how to do the thing. So once that started, oh my gosh. The teacher leadership, I’ve done very little. I just resigned as the volunteer state coordinator. I have done very little because whenever you give teachers, especially, and school leaders that type of power, there’s no magic curtain. Here’s the stuff. Do it. Let me teach you how. They ended up spreading things all by themselves, like where one school in a district turned to all the schools in the district. That wasn’t me. That was them. And so that’s the power of grassroots and why I will say it until the day I die, you need, you need the grass and you need the sunshine. It all comes together. You need it all to be able to truly make, you know, these moments turn into movements.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. So what are, you said it’s a curriculum. So are you saying some schools are teaching the curriculum through club meetings and some of them are actually doing it as a class?


GONZALEZ: Elective or something?

ECKERT: Yep. It’s an elective and now it’s a pathway within the state. Because I also found out in the beginning that I couldn’t have the class if we couldn’t get school performance score points for it. So whenever I tell you I shook every tree and bushwhacked to make the path easier, that is exactly what I did.


ECKERT: So yes. Now it’s a pathway. And there’s been, there’s some beautiful work in states along the same veins and before there to kind of clear the way and to make more mean more because there was also equity issues where at first it was the knee jerk reaction. Well, let’s just make a dual enrollment or AP. That is a mistake because that will not do much to diversify the pipeline. How do I know? Because there weren’t a whole lot of Black and brown kids that have access to AP and dual enrollment. So it’s just all of the things stemmed from very real reasons and instead of sort of letting that, like, well this is way too hard.


ECKERT: I’m gonna just go back.


ECKERT: Like, okay. It’s just one more thing. Let me knock it down and then we’re going to go back.

GONZALEZ: Oh my gosh.

ECKERT: So yeah.

GONZALEZ: It’s that last one thing that makes the difference sometimes between whether something happens or not because it’s so easy to get discouraged by little bits of red tape. And it’s just like, no. And you have really boundless energy, thank goodness, because for a lot of other people, they would have been like, you know what? I think I’m just gonna lay on the couch and watch Netflix and fall asleep.

ECKERT: Sure. There’s the beauty of partnering with people too. I think so often we feel like we’ve got to do things alone. I don’t. I want friends.


ECKERT: Partnering with just the most brilliant people, and we hype each other. Oh, they’re trying to knock us down. We’re gonna do, like just kind of hyping. Like a team makes everything so much more fun.


ECKERT: So it’s not like I did these things alone. I caused a lot of rabble rousing alone.


ECKERT: But I certainly had a lot of helpers in the rabble rousing and the shenanigan-ing. So it’s been really great.

GONZALEZ: So it sounds like you’ve kind of passed the baton on with Educators Rising. But for anybody listening, there are chapters in many, many other states, correct?

ECKERT: Yes. And if your state is not currently affiliate, an affiliate of national Educators Rising, well, you can reach out and I’ll give you the exact guidebook on how to get started.


ECKERT: I think the only, the only mistake is to not move forward. Like, you can’t make a wrong step. Just don’t step backward.


ECKERT: It might not happen today. It might be a story where it’s like in six years you’ll have this, or maybe it’ll be an even better story. Is it going to be hard? Yeah it will. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be in the state we’re in with teacher shortage. It takes years to be a great teacher. The earlier we can get young people started, I think that their career trajectory is going to look very different than anything really has before.


ECKERT: It kind of goes back to what I just said. It takes years, and I think so many times we look at great teachers and they make it look so easy. But you don’t see that a lot of good teachers really don’t sleep a lot in the first few years. Not because of burdens but because there’s so much to learn. And the whole idea, like if we just started sooner, it’s just, we’re a profession, right, and the medical profession has residency, like six, eight years before they’re practicing. We don’t have the luxury of that because we have way too many people who need us. We can’t take eight years. We’re learning on the job. And it’s just from what, from what I’ve now seen, before it was just like a gut, “I think we need to start sooner.” Now it’s like no, no. When we start sooner, they actually start stronger.


ECKERT: And we’re going to talk about that a little bit more whenever we talk about the next exciting things that are happening with teacher prep and Kim, but that’s the thing. You never truly will be a first year teacher again, and I’m using quotations in the sense. We all know what it means, like, oh God, you’re a first year teacher, bless. But I don’t think it has to be that way. I just think we need to respect the game and how hard it is but allow people to come in and start to play it a little sooner.

GONZALEZ: Right. Did the, did the students in these programs, do they get to teach while they’re in high school? Do they get practice?

ECKERT: Oh yeah. They do.

GONZALEZ: How do they do that? Where are they doing it?

ECKERT: So, and it depends. I’ve seen so many different iterations now of the ways that different spaces make it work. But a lot of them, in the second year, there’s a little internship where they’re in a classroom two days a week for just an hour, basically class time.


ECKERT: I’ve also seen spaces with like CTE centers, like satellite centers where they’re doing a lot more. But even that is incredible work because, you know, the exposure, it goes back to that. Even if you convince them to be a teacher, it’s like, well, I really love English and I would like to be an English teacher. Well, how much do you love humanity? Let’s take a look at that. Do you love people? Do you have a 4.0 in human? And then like showing them all the different classrooms and then it helps them fall in love with teaching kids instead of teaching their subject first.


ECKERT: And that is wild and really cool to watch as that change sort of happens in them.

GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. So do you guys have any numbers in terms of how many students from the Louisiana programs have actually gone on to become teachers? Or has it not been long enough yet?

ECKERT: We’re collecting that data right now, but what’s funny, and I can give you small data first, because it’s the data that I started, right? Out of my first class, I will tell you zero of that first 17 wanted to be teachers at the beginning. Like, I really think they just were doing special favors for me by taking this class. And oh my goodness, several of them, and whenever I say several, more than half of that, have just graduated and they’re in their first year teaching or they’re in alt cert program because they still didn’t believe. They majored in something else, but it doesn’t matter. They came back around. And it was just so beautiful. At this last state conference that we had, my first student in my first Educators Rising class, he was there with his class of Educators Rising students as a math teacher. And the turnaround wasn’t that big. It was his, it’s been five years. He went to school. He became a teacher. He’s now the Ed Rising sponsor of a club on his campus. So, you know, I can’t wait to see as more data comes, and then there’s going to be collection issues there, but we’re still going to collect it. We’re still going to try. But I’m okay with the story of Braxton, and I’m okay with the story of Kennedy, and I’m okay with the story of McKenzie.


ECKERT: That’s enough for me. And I just, it’s amazing. Anybody that’s listening, I hope that you know that you have it in you to create those stories too, and you probably already have. But now you can do it in a more systemized way where you’re not alone.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. So what is their website? What is Ed Rising’s website?

ECKERT: Okay. Take notes, ready?

GONZALEZ: All right.


GONZALEZ: I was going to leave that until the end, but I thought if anyone’s listening, we can tell them that one now.

ECKERT: Yes. Just tell your computer machine, Educators Rising.

GONZALEZ: Dot org. Okay. So now we are going to shift to, we’re going to move from high school and middle school onto adulthood.


GONZALEZ: To the Oxford Teachers College, which is a, under the umbrella of what is called Reach University.


GONZALEZ: So where would be the best place for us to start to talk about this?

ECKERT: At the beginning.


ECKERT: Or maybe at the end. And I’m not, I’m not being ironic there.


ECKERT: Oh my goodness. If you thought I was excited about Educators Rising, like oh my goodness. Whoa. I’m about to get sweaty. Like, this is really exciting work. And it all ties together. Like, it’s all part of the same story, which is really, it’s really cool. No, I guess we’ll start at the very beginning. So I told you that I had my super cool group of my 65 favorite friends who are paraeducators in West Baton Rouge schools. And it didn’t take me long. I mean, maybe a month or two in to become obsessed with them. Like, oh my gosh. I’m such a groupie of like teachers and people. And there were many times I’m like, oh my God, you’re like the best teacher, maybe in the school. Why aren’t you, like, a teacher?


ECKERT: And I just, I just was so enamored of their talent and the ways that they connected with kids, and certainly like, you know, my peers that worked with me whenever I was exclusively a special education teacher. And just, it started to occur to me that if they would, if they could have, they would. They would have been doing it, right?


ECKERT: So just threw it to ask them, like well why aren’t you a teacher? But no, really. Why aren’t you a teacher? And then you just spin up all the ways that life got in the way or at some point they had to choose between a job or college. And all the reasons in the world, all the reasons in the world, like, you know, they were in college and then their mother passed away. Or they were in college and their grandmother needed a caregiver, or they got pregnant, and then they got pregnant again. Or they had a terrible relationship and a husband that was abusive. Or their dad said girls don’t go to college. I mean I just heard it all. And then you have some where it’s like, you know what? It was 15, 16 years ago. I was way too young. I flunked out, I didn’t appreciate, whatever it might be.


ECKERT: But I just, it does not sit well with me that the rest of your life is determined and there are entire doors locked to you because of what a season of your life held. And so it was just like, oh wow. Here we go again. We got some stuff to fix. Like, let’s see what we can do. And I tried, lord knows I tried the typical and traditional routes. And then I just realized I couldn’t fight FAFSA. I can’t fight financial aid. I can’t, there are some things that are just too big for Kim to fight. But can I go around it? And so I started to look at just other things. And then, you know, testing barriers. Like if someone, you know, couldn’t do well on an SAT or an ACT, just all of the things. And that almost had me, like, give up for like two hours. Never forever, but like a solid two hours I think I was in my feelings like, oh my God, this is really hard. But then I remembered two things. Like oh my gosh, kids need you to be a highly skilled teacher, and then to my peers, right, you need somebody championing for you so that you can be the teacher that these kids need.


ECKERT: And so, the rest is history. Gosh, that’s my favorite phrase of the day. So from there, Reach University, they’re actually based in California, so that was a model made by teachers, essentially, in the Oakland area because California needed a way that was low cost that helped California teachers clear credentials. It’s actually pretty difficult to be a teacher in California. It seems like it’s like a six-year minimum where you, a degree is not enough. There is no majoring in education and then magically you get a classroom. There is a lot of work. So Reach was initiated to become a credential clearing through a master’s degree program or an intern program. And then Oxford Teachers College sort of took that idea with them and expanded it and Louisiana and Arkansas were the first couple of states. And I think a lot of that is because our brilliant Chancellor Mallory really saw the needs there. And I’ll tell you what the needs are, and I’ll sort of tell you what it is that we do in a sec.


ECKERT: So the approach, and I’ll tell you why I didn’t believe it because the first thing we get is that it’s too good to be true. It was just an idea that we’re trying to recruit maybe the first 50 students of Oxford Teachers College. And throughout my work with Educators Rising in the state, my name sort of popped up like you really need to talk to this person in this district. And I started to talk to them and I loved the idea, but listen, here’s the schtick. It’s fully accredited. It’s a nonprofit philanthropic college. Okay, that sounds good. It’s debt-free. There are no student loans. Okay, tell me more about that. It’s $75 a month. Districts can choose to subsidize some of that, whoa, whoa, $75. What, what, what?


ECKERT: There’s a trick. What do you mean?


ECKERT: And so immediately I became distrustful and just super protective over my peers. Like, I didn’t want them to go through one more thing that was going to fail them in the end.


ECKERT: Because they were better than that, and they were worth more than that. And so I always kind of joke with the president and the chancellor of the university now because they didn’t accept our group into the pilot. I was like, meh. Well, it’s probably not real anyway. But nothing could have been further from the truth. A few months, maybe a year later I ended up adjuncting for them and working at the Department of Education and still teaching in West Baton Rouge and just watched it really flourish and come alive, this idea. And my original candidates that were my peer group, these paraprofessionals, they ended up becoming part of the inaugural class, so they did make it as part of the 50 that were the first group. I’ll real quick pull some beautiful ties together. That first group just graduated last May, and all of them are now employed in my district. So like, what?

GONZALEZ: Wow. Nice.

ECKERT: Oh my gosh, I love it when stuff works. Gosh.

GONZALEZ: So, let me, let me make sure, I want to, because I have my own background knowledge now because we’ve had outside conversations —


GONZALEZ: — that are not in this.

ECKERT: It’s a lot.

GONZALEZ: But I want to make sure that we covered the basics. So Reach University was already a thing, and they were doing job-embedded training for existing teachers to get their final credentials to get their licenses.


GONZALEZ: Then someone somewhere decided we want to start a program, Oxford Teachers College, to actually train new teachers from the ground up.

ECKERT: Yeah, the undergrads.

GONZALEZ: And they found you or you found them or how did you all find each other?

ECKERT: They found West Baton Rouge and West Baton Rouge had me.

GONZALEZ: Said you need to talk to Kim Eckert, okay.

ECKERT: Yeah. Yeah. I sort of had developed a reputation of starting wild and crazy things, which was really cool. And so you did touch on something that’s the next piece of this that as Oxford Teachers College and Reach University currently stands, it’s 100 percent job-embedded, so it’s also a part of the registered apprenticeship model which is, it’s really catching a lot of fire, which is exciting, around the country. But we were really ready for it. We were written for it, which is exciting. And so the only catch really, and it’s not a catch, it’s just that every single person, 100 percent of our candidates have got to be working at a school or working in proximity to children. Because we also have folks who work maybe after school programs or substitute teachers. But because everything that we do is so rooted in practice, it’s just a critical piece. And so every single person is currently working with kids, they’re part of school systems, and that is, it’s incredible. And so to be able to have a job-embedded program, going back to that idea of starting sooner, the power of that, especially whenever you understand the reality. Because we can pretend all day long, oh, we shouldn’t have people in the classroom who aren’t trained. Well, we do, because teacher shortage, right?


ECKERT: So the beauty of having these folks with us now, we know that it’s not like this lofty goal, “In four years you’re going to have your own class, and you’ll get to do all these things we taught you last year.” No. You have kids now. I taught you this. Tomorrow I want you to do this, and next week we’re going to talk about how it impacts student learning. So being able to go through years of that before your official practice starts, that is incredible. So that’s why I was like, maybe I should start at the end. Because I’m able to now see again the effects of that and the reality of that because we’re in our clinical year, so this was a brand new program. I was able to design it, to hire it, to staff it. And now that we’re in the clinical year, as a person who’s now coached, like I said, 13 out of 16 years, I’ve never seen novice teachers start this strong out of the gate. It gives me chills thinking of how powerful and how reflective they are and the way that they see their relationship between student learning and their own actions. And it’s because they, they literally, they were trained for this from before they came to us but they were trained for this from day one to really kind of lean into what a school really is and what it could be. And they don’t see kids as problems. They, like me, see them as solutions, right?


ECKERT: And that just makes such a huge difference. They love their community. They love the kids. And we’re just seeing how powerful that is in the making of a great teacher.


ECKERT: In the beginning of it.

GONZALEZ: I’m thinking about this model as you’re talking about it, and I’m wondering how much two things come into play. One, the fact that as teachers enter your program, they already know the kids that they’re working with or they’ve at least had some experience with the kids so they’ve already started the relationship-building piece.


GONZALEZ: And also I would guess that on average the people that enter your program are at a different stage of life than your average 19-year-old that enters an education program. So they’ve probably got a little bit more maturity than the average college student in terms of like this is what I want to do, I know I’m interested in this.


GONZALEZ: I’ve got my, I’m not out partying every weekend. I can just focus and really stay committed to it. Does that also make a difference?

ECKERT: Oh my gosh. And again, like I can teach both and, right? But prior to coming to Reach, I was also an adjunct at three different universities within the state, and so I’ve definitely taught firsthand those that were just fresh out of college, which is great, right. We need those too. But yes, it is, it is a huge difference, and the assets are completely different and so cool. And we realized that at the very beginning, like that we needed to write the program with them in mind. We know they’re coming with this, so let’s take that and like catapult it. So the idea that a person can be, you know, culturally responsive, right.


ECKERT: There’s a lot to be said of a person who already appreciates and values the community that they’re a part of. They love it so much, they show up for $12 an hour every day.


ECKERT: They know the kids have amazing talent. They love them so much, they show up for 12 hours, for $12 every day.

GONZALEZ: Right, yeah.

ECKERT: And so just understanding like building the program for the actual people who are going to be enrolled and who are actually making an impact, that, that’s powerful. And again, the idea of not having to retrofit things. So I think we’re able to start at a different space than a lot of it is the some of the reasons that you said. But for us, our median age is about 36. I think that for the most part they already really understand the value of education. A lot of them were failed by K-12 education the first time around. So they’re not strangers to the power of a degree, the power of how education can change a community. We’re almost exclusively in rural and urban areas, so there’s already a deep understanding of that. It’s people who want to stay where they are and make an impact where they are. They’re not looking for the next thing. Which, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s sort of the, you know there’s room for both, and for the longest time we’ve been sort of outsourcing talent, we’ve been outsourcing leadership in some of these communities that need more. But really we should have been flooding with opportunity because the people were already there that want to lead and want to step up. It was never for lack of desire. It was always for lack of opportunity. And that’s, that’s been an incredible thing to see at play, how right those ideas were. They’re exactly where they need to be. They just needed, again, someone knocking down some of the walls so that they can take their place.

GONZALEZ: Right now you guys only serve Louisiana and Arkansas and was it one other state?

ECKERT: Oh, so we are currently in Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, California, Colorado, and a touch of Texas. It’s like coming to a state near you. But we also just launched the National Center for Apprenticeship Degrees, and that sounds like it’s a distant relative. It’s not. It’s actually the same people with Reach, but it’s that whole understanding that we can teach other people how to do what we did. We are not proprietorial about any of this. Like, more is more. Rising tide lifts all boats. And so that’s pretty great. So if someone’s in a state that’s not one of those, No. 1, I would honestly say, let’s see what we can figure out, because that’s just where we are now.


ECKERT: But we’re, we’re made up of teachers. We are not made up of limits.


ECKERT: I’ll just leave it that way. But then even if we couldn’t immediately articulate into a state, we also have the National Center for Apprenticeship Degrees, which people are getting involved in in many different ways, from state levels, from local universities. They’re contacting and we’re supporting them so that they start where they are. Some people need help navigating apprenticeship dollars, apprenticeship spaces. Some need help actually taking a hard look at their current scope and sequence of a university and how do you actually make it job-embedded. Some were like, whoa, what about accreditation? Or they’re fighting the battle where they’re trying to convince people that it’s not a watered down approach to getting a bachelor’s degree. And those are all valid. And so we’re doing a lot of work of sort of bolstering. And where we were the crazy wackadoos in the beginning who were like, well we’re going to try it, now we actually have data to show that it works.


ECKERT: And it’s by no means a watered down version of anything. Our licensure data is right there in keeping, we’re trending above the national average of passage rates, and we’re completely open admissions. So that should just kind of show the power of a job-embedded authentic degree, especially as it relates to adult learners.

GONZALEZ: Open admissions.

ECKERT: Open admissions.

GONZALEZ: If you want to do this, you can do it.

ECKERT: Come one, come all, yes.

GONZALEZ: Okay. And really $75 a month?

ECKERT: Really $75 a month.

GONZALEZ: And how do they make that possible? Is it grant funded?

ECKERT: Oh my gosh. Oh. You should have, like, our whole finance team on your podcast. A very intricate weaving of funding. So yes.


ECKERT: Grants and Pell eligibility. Like, there’s a really brilliant way that they take a look at Pell. And we are also in a space where I think like over 92 percent of our candidates qualify for Pell, you know, at, below poverty. There’s some really cool stuff with that. Apprenticeship dollars are huge, and a lot of colleges and different school districts are sort of understanding that and trying to understand how to better leverage those funds. And then yes, we do have some amazing donors that believe in everything that we’re doing, and so our grants are strong. Everything from more private philanthropy to grants with the U.S. Government, like your SEED and TQP grants. And so, that is something that we feel really strongly about. And so all of our candidates know that they’re coming in as scholarship students. Because that’s the other thing too. It’s so inexpensive, people think it’s cheap, and nothing could be further from the truth. It, it, it gets you ready. We do not take the preparation of teachers —


ECKERT: — and making great teachers for children lightly.


ECKERT: So we just, we have a strong level of support that we offer because you can have all of the free in the world, and if you’re not doing what it takes to really help people feel included, and really help them have integrity and help them feel like they make our space better, we’re going to lose them. But our, you know, our matriculation rates are strong, perseverance, they’re coming back. And again, we’re made up largely of teachers and, and I think that speaks volumes to our ability to create culture and to create really inclusive spaces even through synchronous learning and virtual environments.

GONZALEZ: So if somebody wants to learn about, about, when you refer to it, do you call it Reach, do you call it Oxford? What do you refer to it as?

ECKERT: Oh, this is another one. It’s another doozy.



GONZALEZ: That’s it? That’s the website?

ECKERT: We’re a simple people. Yeah.

GONZALEZ: And when you go to this site, if I’m remembering, it’s a quick scroll to click where it says teacher stuff?



ECKERT: It’s just a, it’s a quick, quick, quick scroll. We totally understand the attention span of most adults.


ECKERT: So yeah. You’ll get what you need whenever you visit there.

GONZALEZ: So if I am a person listening, and I’m like, this all sounds great, I work at a university. I’m already doing a traditional teacher prep program. What advice would you give me about preparing this next generation of teachers based on what you have learned from the work that you’ve done with high school students and these paraprofessionals?

ECKERT: I think that what I would say to anyone in terms of preparing the next generation of teachers, it may seem like it goes around the question, but it is the answer. You could have the most amazing preparation, but if you’re not attending to reducing barriers, then people can’t access it. So I would say, you know, don’t wait and don’t sacrifice one for the other. Like, it’s not, well, let’s wait ’til our program is really great, and then we’ll let people in. But it’s also not, let’s let people in, even though our program’s not great, do both, both and. Because, like, time keeps passing and kids can’t wait, and you just need to start. You just need to put one foot in front of the other. And so I think that’s the bigger thing. I could give advice for days. I think the other one would be we all have to challenge ourselves to rethink what a great teacher looks like. Because I think a lot of times — not I think, I know — we go in with blinders on. We go in with our own implicit bias, and that limits who we’re inviting into the classroom, and I think that that makes a huge difference as well. We don’t, we don’t have to really twist people’s arms to serve our communities and our country through teaching if you’re finding the people who are already interested in that type of work from the start. So I think that that’s the other piece of it. So really try to attend to access. What can you do with who you are, with what you have and where you are to let more people in. And what can you do to remember that more is more and all means all? What can you do to really reimagine who deserves to be a teacher, who is going to be a great teacher? And I think those, those two things have really served me well as a compass. And I think that, you know, we’re all sort of like-minded in that, even if we approach the work from different angles.

GONZALEZ: I, I can’t, one phrase that you just said a few minutes ago that really stood out, I don’t that I’ve ever heard it said this way, but you said “serve our country.”

ECKERT: Oh, yeah.

GONZALEZ: Which you always hear applied to the military and to the police and to the firefighters and all of those people deserve it.


GONZALEZ: But I don’t ever really hear anybody thanking a teacher for their service, and it is. It’s a 30-year sometimes sacrifice of so many things, and here lately, you are risking your actual physical safety a lot of times too.


GONZALEZ: So it’s, it really is a service to the country that teachers are doing.

ECKERT: It is a service to our country. Like, I’m a patriot.


ECKERT: I think that that is something. It’s been really important for me to claim that narrative for us. That, you know, that service comes in so many different ways. But, you know, educating an entire generation, an entire population, an entire population who relies on the potential and the reality of our, our young people, that’s a service. We serve our country.

GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah.

ECKERT: And you shouldn’t have to go in debt to serve your country.


ECKERT: And you shouldn’t have to beg to serve your country.


ECKERT: You know, just for all these things.


ECKERT: All these things and more.

GONZALEZ: If somebody would like to find you online, where would be the best place for them to go?

ECKERT: Oh, well, you know, all the usual corners. I’m not very cool. So LinkedIn, that’s a really great way, and I’m Kimberly Eckert, I’m Kimberly Eckert on LinkedIn and not in LinkedIn. Like in real life, I’m also Kimberly Eckert. I’m going to stop. Okay. On Instagram, “insta” if I’m being super cool, I’m also there. I lurk there, @2018latoy.

GONZALEZ: Let’s explain that handle real quick because that’s not everybody’s kind of, that doesn’t say just Kim Eckert. Why, why does it say “latoy”?

ECKERT: Well, because the 2018 Louisiana Teacher of the Year. I like to make fun of myself. I’m like a has-been, like VH1, “Where Are They Now?”

GONZALEZ: Oh my God.

ECKERT: From way back in the gap of 2018. Yeah. So that’s where I can be found. And I just could never be bothered to change the handle, so it works for me.

GONZALEZ: Wow. Kim, thank you so much for coming on. We could probably talk for another four hours and not run out of stuff to talk about, I’m sure.

ECKERT: Well, I hope that’s true. I hope that’s true with really anyone, but thank you so much. That was a, a, you know, rambling and winding story, and you did an amazing job facilitating our conversation.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

ECKERT: I see you.

For links to all the resources mentioned in this episode or to read a full transcript of our conversation, visit, click Podcast, and choose episode 225. To get a bimonthly email from me about my newest blog posts, podcast episodes, courses and products, sign up for my mailing list at Thanks so much for listening, and have a great day.