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Growing the Next Generation of Teachers

District 49 has planted the seeds to relaunch an important career and technical education (CTE) program. After a two-year hiatus, Vista Ridge High School plans to bring back the Teacher Cadet Program for the ’23-24 school year to prepare aspiring teachers for a career in education.

Theresa James, educator at VRHS, will serve as an instructor for the Teacher Cadet Program in school year '23-24.

High school juniors and seniors will have the opportunity to experience firsthand what it’s like to guide young learners with reading and writing, math basics, and essential social skills. They’ll see what it’s like to make a difference by serving as an educator.

Diane Friedericks, language arts teacher, and Theresa James, social studies teacher, will serve as Teacher Cadet Program Instructors. Both have impressive backgrounds ensuring future teachers will learn from the best. James was a finalist for 2023 Colorado Teacher of the Year, and Friedericks has experience teaching subjects ranging from Spanish to AP and Honors English. The two completed extensive training on the National Teacher Cadet Program curriculum last year to allow VRHS to offer the course again for students.

“In general, we don’t do a good job of exposing kids to what teaching is all about,” James said. “This will give students a simple way to get their feet wet.” One primary goal of the Teacher Cadet Program is to encourage high achieving high school students with excellent interpersonal and leadership skills to consider teaching as a career.

“This program is actual job readiness, but even if a student decides they don’t like it, that’s okay … it’s good to try it now before graduation,” added Friedericks.

An important secondary goal of the program includes providing talented future community leaders with insights about teachers and schools, so they can participate as civic advocates for education.

Teacher Cadet Program Structure

The one-year program will kick off with students attending one class period during the fall semester. They’ll learn about topics such as teaching strategies and methods, diverse learners, education history and what colleges offer teaching programs. In the second semester, the cadets will step into elementary classrooms for what is essentially a “mini” student-teaching program.

“Our students will be involved in D49 schools, and they’ll be teaching small groups,” Friedericks said. “This is a great introduction to see what it’s like to work with kids and collaborate with teachers.”

Teacher Cadets will complete 35 hours in a classroom lecture environment, 15 hours of observation at school functions or board meetings, and 50 hours of field experience. In the field, Teacher Cadets will partner with an assigned clinical teacher, or mentor, who will guide their hands-on part of the program. James and Friedericks will make regular visits to the elementary sites to see their students in action, demonstrating what they learned from the fall semester.

Participants in the Teacher Cadet Program will meet District 49’s CTE requirement for high school graduation and may be eligible to earn college credit through Pikes Peak State College.

Anatomy of a teacher graphic

Traits of an Ideal Teacher Cadet

When it comes to encouraging students to enroll in the Teacher Cadet Program, James and Friedericks compiled a list of traits they’d like to see in potential candidates.

“Leadership skills matter. In front of a group of kids, are you a leader? Communication skills are important too … are you someone who can naturally communicate well with others?” James explained.

“I like to think about the students who often ask, ‘What can I do for you? Can I grade papers?’ Those are the ones itching to be a teacher,” Friedericks added. “I’ve already pulled a couple kids aside and had conversations with them about giving the program a try.”

According to James, demonstrating care is another essential skill. “I don’t think you can be a teacher nowadays without being compassionate. If you aren’t empathetic, you won’t get anywhere. Kids need someone who cares.”

Students interested in enrolling in the program must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and because the course is a college-level class, Teacher Cadets must possess excellent writing skills. The application process will include writing an essay titled, “Why I want to be a teacher.”

Along with meeting the GPA requirement and completing the application and essay, students must have their own transportation to travel between schools in D49.

An Organic Approach to Teacher Recruitment

Like the rest of our nation, Colorado faces a teacher shortage. The supply isn’t keeping up with demand as fewer college students are choosing the profession, and longtime educators are reaching retirement. The Teacher Cadet Program is one homegrown solution to developing a pool of educators for our state and district. “Their clinical teacher will sell them on D49. They will see what a job looks like in our district,” said Friedericks. “They will experience different staff members, connect with our community and that may spark their interest in coming back some day.”

Diane Friedericks mentors a student on her portfolio and discusses the Teacher Cadet Program.

Friedericks and James are hoping to have 15 students enrolled in the program for next school year; the minimum number of Teacher Cadets needed to offer the program is six. Hopes are for the program to grow in numbers year after year. “Our elementary students will see our high school students out in their schools and may become interested in the Teacher Cadet Program when they are in high school,” James said.

Students will leave the Teacher Cadet Program well-prepared for next steps in earning a degree and teaching license. They’ll compile classroom observation papers and notes from their experience hours to create a portfolio throughout the year. “This portfolio will help a student’s cause when they want to get into a program,” said James. “We have a partnership with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs now, and we’re working to strengthen the relationship to address the teacher shortage.”

Another perk for future educators—some can apply for free college courses offered on their high school campus through concurrent enrollment and have the opportunity to receive up to two years of college classes paid for with the Teacher Recruitment Education & Preparation (TREP) Program in Colorado. (To learn more about the TREP Program, visit their website.)

Getting Started as a Teacher Cadet

If a student at any D49 high school is interested in the Teacher Cadet Program at Vista Ridge High School, they should contact their high school counselor, or email Theresa James at or Diane Friedericks at The program instructors hope to confirm student interest for the ’23-24 school year by this April.

“My advice for parents is this can provide an opportunity for you to help your child find their purpose. What better way for your student to get an idea of what they want to do. This is truly a rewarding profession,” James said. “Nobody goes into teaching for the pay, but it’s about everything else. When you have kids come back and talk to you years later, you know you played a part in producing productive citizens.”

Amy Matisek