Emily Joseph, a junior at St. Francis High School and a student in the TBA-ISD's Teacher Academy, works with students during a lesson in a freshman Honors English class taught by Maria LaCross.

Aspiring teachers still in high school can check out the profession firsthand, leading lessons, drawing up plans and working with students.

The Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District's Teacher Academy puts juniors and seniors into classrooms, where for an hour daily they work with veteran teachers and their students. One of 22 programs offered by the TBA-ISD, the Teacher Academy for this school year includes 85 students working with 20 mentor teachers in 17 participating school districts.

The students' experiences can provide critical information before they enter a college program, said Teacher Academy instructor Susan O' Connor. Citing statistics that 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years of launching their careers, the Teacher Academy facilitates exploration of the field by high school students.

"Students have four different placements, four different ages and four different subjects -- that's actually the best part of it," she said. "At the college level you don't get to explore all these levels."

The depth and variety of the Academy's structure only strengthens the interest in the profession for many participants, who go on to pursue education degrees in college. Others discover that teaching is not what they thought and, instead of investing tens of thousands of dollars and years of time in college, can move on to another field.

Finally, even those who desire to continue teaching may find that the age range they targeted is not for them. Learning where to focus before college is a huge boon.

Emily Joseph, a junior at Traverse City St. Francis High School, is in her second year of the academy. (She received permission to start as a sophomore to accommodate studying abroad next year with the Rotary Youth Exchange program.)

After working last year with kindergarten and second-grade students, Joseph discovered this year that she relishes engaging intellectually with high school students.

"When I first when into this I thought, 'I love little kids, I love to baby-sit,'" said Joseph, who has always wanted to be a teacher. "While I still think they are fun, I love high school English and I definitely want to teach in high school."

Joseph's host teacher, Maria LaCross, participated in the Teacher Academy before graduating from Glen Lake High School in 2004. She headed to Michigan State to study education, where she found that her in-classroom time boosted both her college studies and student teaching.

"I felt very ahead and it also helped direct me to what kind of teaching I wanted to do," LaCross said.

"I got a lot out of it," she added of her Academy experience. "I always thought of teaching, but wasn't 100 percent sure until I did that program."

Deanna Sayer is the mentor teacher at Elk Rapids School District, working with eight students this semester. Two more students will be joining the program next semester, the most the district has fielded at one time in the Teacher Academy.

In Elk Rapids, Teacher Academy students work with a different teacher every nine weeks. Over two years, this gives them experience with eight different classrooms, teaching styles, grade levels and subjects.

"As teachers, we often say, 'I wish I'd had that,'" Sayer said.

Students interested in the program apply as they would for any other TBA-ISD Career Tech Center program.

"There's an interview, but it's mostly for the experience," added O'Connor.

Besides daily time in a classroom with their host teacher, Teacher Academy students also connect with O'Connor regularly via Skype and learn and complete assignments via the Internet. In addition, students meet weekly with their district's mentor teacher.

Thanks to technology and the unique structure of the program, Academy students do not have to travel daily to the Career Tech Center. Instead, participants go there six to 12 times a year for professional development classes.

"We do trainings like incorporating music into classrooms," O'Connor said, adding of these student gatherings: "We're building a learning community and then they maintain these relationships from here on."

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