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The Teacher Shortage Has Been Devastating, But Some Programs are Looking To Change This

Vienna High School Student, Mackenzie Bullock in the SIFTC Program helping a second grader at Vienna Grade School
Ethan Holder
Vienna High School Student, Mackenzie Bullock in the SIFTC Program helping a second grader at Vienna Grade School

Schools across the nation are trying to educate the next generation, but the process has become a lot more difficult in recent years.

The teacher shortage is hindering schools' ability to educate children in the entire country, but some rural areas are being hit the hardest.

Dongola High School partnered with Vienna High School (VHS) this year to have its Freshman and Sophomore students go to VHS.

Vienna is not only helping schools who have been most impacted by the teacher shortage, but it is also trying to increase the number of teachers going into the workforce.

VHS, along with other schools in the area, is a part of the Southern Illinois Future Teachers Coalition.

SIFTC is a partnership that began in 2021 between three local colleges and multiple local high schools to address the teacher shortage by exposing high school students to the profession.

Brooke May, the SIFTC director at Vienna High School, says these experiences help high school students learn if teaching is a career they want rather than waiting till college and potentially wasting time and money.

“Let’s help you develop your teaching skills early on so you have the skill you take forward into college and they already know what area they want to teach. Those other students who are not sure, give it a test run. If you don’t like it, fantastic, you’re still in high school. So, that’s what we are hoping to gain is to help those students build those experiences so they know for sure ‘This is what I want’” May said.

To bring these experiences to the students, many of the schools in SIFTC have education clubs and some schools, such as VHS, offer dual credit education courses.

Leslie Bradley, the Director of Student Career Services and the education teacher at VHS, says Vienna offers intro to education, technology in education, diversity in schools and society, and educational psychology.

She says these courses not only teach the basics of a classroom such as giving lectures or answering questions, but it teaches students about all the responsibilities a teacher has.

“We have a bulletin board hanging in the hallway now, this is a teacher's skill. I have a student going on Friday morning to help set up for grandparents breakfast at one of our feeder schools because that’s a side of teacher life that’s happening outside the classroom. So, they are learning to do a lot that they haven’t really thought about being a part of a teachers job” Bradley said.

On top of courses and clubs, Vienna is also giving students hands-on experience in a classroom. Once a week, the students in the education courses go to Vienna Grade School to be a teacher's aid and even sometimes run a class.

Many students have participated in this hands-on experience in classrooms. Bradley says the classes average about ten students in each class. Christie McIntyre, the associate director in the school of education at SIU, says she has been meeting with students from Vienna’s program and hopes they all become teachers.

“I actually met with eleven students from Vienna this morning. They were high school students who wanted to go into education. I hope I convinced them all to come into SIU but regardless we need teachers no matter where they go” McIntyre said.

SIFTC director, Brook May, says the program just had its first student become a teacher.

“Last year we actually had our first graduate out of one of our high school clubs become a teacher and be hired back in the district that they graduated from. That was from Johnston City. We are already starting to see the fruits of the labor that has gone into making this process” May said.

While the program has begun seeing success, there are some hurdles in its way from growing. Bradley says most of her students in the program are in Shawnee Community College district but Shawnee has dropped its education program.

“Shawnee College, which has 12 high schools in its district, has no education program. So if we are looking at trying to add an early education childhood pathway, we’ve lost a partner to do that with. That is a hurdle that we have no way of navigating at this time” Bradley said.

While some colleges are dropping education programs, May says she wants to see colleges form connections with prospective students. She says it would be great if colleges sent professors or advisors to the local high schools with education clubs or programs to foster face to face connections.

“We would love to make those connections with our students. All of our schools have future educator clubs and they meet regularly. To have those people come in, whether it’s once a semester, but then these students start seeing these faces and making connections. That personal connection, not just a name and an email. I think that would be one of the great things we would like to see not only from community colleges but from universities” May said.

Some colleges may be falling behind in addressing the teacher shortage, but some are doing whatever they can to produce new teachers. McIntyre says SIU has multiple programs to increase the number of teachers going into the field.

One of the programs is the grow your own program which helps people who have already been in the field of education but may not be licensed teachers, such as classroom aids, get a degree in education.

“Does that mean we offer classes at night? Does that mean we offer classes on the weekend? One of the things we are looking at is giving those individuals college credit for their work experience” McIntyre said.

This helps existing workers become teachers but they are also helping current students in multiple ways. McIntyre says one of the main reasons students avoid education programs is the 16 weeks of students teaching that are unpaid. However, she says there are some programs being looked into to change this.

“It’s just not feasible in today's society. So many of our students need to work. So, the state is looking at funding from the Department of Labor that would enable student teachers to access money to support them during student teaching” McIntyre said.

This is making the program far more appealing but she says they are also looking to streamline the program as well. The program now decreased its duration by nearly a year by increasing the hands-on experience and McIntyre says this has boosted its results.

“Those students that were residents in the fall, by the time they got to student teaching they were already well into demonstrating the behaviors, skill, and knowledge that other student teachers wouldn’t demonstrate for another five to six weeks” McIntyre says.

The teacher shortage has been a growing issue for years but with all these changes, many believe there will be an uptick in the amount of teachers very soon. To learn more about how SIFTC is combatting the teacher shortage, click here.

Ethan Holder is a student contributor for WSIU Public Broadcasting located at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Contact WSIU Radio at 618-453-6101 or email wsiunews@wsiu.org
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