Preliminary Intern Teacher Program Addresses Special Education Teacher Shortage by Creating Pathway for Mid-Career Professionals Seeking to Become Teachers

Riverside County Office of Education’s Center for Teacher Innovation (CTI) Program earns accreditation to facilitate transitions into high-demand special education positions.

Center for Teacher Innovation - Transforming the JourneyRIVERSIDE – As an associate dean of students at the University of Oregon, Quantrell Willis was building a career in higher education by helping all students succeed in college. When he moved to California, he began exploring the idea of helping more special needs students like his son at an earlier point in their education—while in high school. However, every credential program Quantrell researched at the university level would have required full-time student teaching requirements—a challenge for Quantrell and many others who are seeking mid-career career shifts to education while supporting families. Quantrell enrolled in the Preliminary Intern Teacher Program offered by the Center for Teacher Innovation at the Riverside County Office of Education. Today, he is completing his teacher training requirements along with other intern teachers while employed as a full-time special education teacher.

Quantrell Willis teaching math lesson to three high school boys

Meet Quantrell Willis, Center for Teacher Innovation Preliminary Intern Teacher Program participant and Val Verde USD Education Specialist.

For many early-to-mid-career professionals like Quantrell Willis—now serving as an education specialist at Orange Vista High School in the Val Verde Unified School District—the journey to switching careers to become a teacher is more challenging than entering the profession immediately after an undergraduate program. Following through on changing career paths to become a special education teacher includes hundreds of hours of investment to earn multiple certifications, study for assessment tests, and gain in-classroom experience.

Compounding the challenge is that those making the switch frequently have greater financial obligations and family commitments that are greater than recent college graduates.

For example, a recent college graduate can more readily meet the semester-long requirement of student teaching in a classroom every day. A mid-career individual seeking to become a teacher would have to quit their job and forego necessary family income in order to fulfill the student teaching requirement. Participants in the Center for Teacher Innovation (CTI) Preliminary Intern Program can earn an entry level teacher’s salary as income while earning their preliminary teaching credential and fulfilling their student teaching requirement in their own classroom during the two year program.

The intern program was first offered through a partnership with the Tulare County Office of Education during the 2018-2019 school year. Mr. Willis is one of 18 intern teachers currently in the program whose participants have an average age of 33 with a 50-50 mix of males and females. All 18 intern teachers have returned to their classrooms for their second year of the program during the 2019-2020 academic year.

In 2019, the Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE) earned accreditation by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to offer the program as a stand-alone option throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. The program will augment the extensive offerings for teacher training at CTI inside RCOE’s newly-formed School of Education.

The School of Education was established to meet the growing demand for credentialed and highly-qualified staff in public schools. The School of Education brings together the credentialing programs offered for many years by CTI with administrative credentialing programs, as well as a new unit focused on equity and access.

How the CTI Preliminary Intern Program Prepares Teachers Before Entering a Special Education Classroom

  • Total of 165 hours of online pre-service training
  • Pass CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test)
  • Exhibit subject matter expertise, most commonly through the passage of CSET (California Subject Examinations for Teachers), and foundational level of what is required for teachers to succeed in the classroom
  • Provides ongoing and systematic support during the pre-preparation phase

How the CTI Intern Program Supports Teachers While in the Classroom

  • Provides intern teacher with a supervisor who provides feedback on instruction and support every other week.
  • Ensures intern teacher is assigned an on-site mentor to provide additional coaching and support
  • Prioritizes the prevention of teacher burnout through a research-based, cohort model focused on all aspects of support
  • Provides credential coursework taken two evenings per week for the duration of the program
  • Recommends the intern teacher for a preliminary teaching credential after successful completion of the two year program

Advantages of the CTI Preliminary Intern Program:

  • The CTI Preliminary Intern Program provides an alternative route to teacher certification that allows teachers to earn their credential while they are working.
  • Nearly 50% tuition savings compared to a university credential program
  • Teachers in training earn their credential while they are working as teachers
  • Test preparation training and discounts on required assessments like CBEST, CSET, and more


“The CTI Preliminary Intern Program will open the doors for new and second-career teachers who are hungry to shape the lives of students in our classrooms,” said Riverside County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Judy D. White. “With a shortage of credentialed special education teachers available statewide, this program will bring more professionals with a foundational level of readiness into schools—an alternative that better serves students than the options of deploying long-term substitutes, moving students to other schools, or increasing class sizes.”

“The program is ideal for classified staff members or education paraprofessionals who have already observed successful special education teachers in action on a daily basis, and we are already working on expanding this opportunity to attract future general education and multiple subject teachers,” said Dr. Tiffany Hill, Director of the RCOE Preliminary Intern Program at the Riverside County Office of Education. “This university-level type of on-the-job training program is unique for a county office of education to offer, but it is crucial for establishing a rapid pathway for people who are passionate about wanting to impact the lives of children to begin a new career in education.”

New cohorts of pre- interns are starting in September and throughout the 2019-2020 academic year. For more information on the program, visit or contact Dr. Tiffany Hill, Director of RCOE Education Specialist Intern Program, (951) 826-6662. For more information on the full offerings of the School of Education at RCOE, visit