Moving the needle: Finding innovative solutions to prepare educators
The fact that the United States is experiencing a national teacher shortage is well documented, and there are many contributing factors, including salary concerns, funding cuts, and attrition due to retirements. While Illinois State’s enrollment in teacher education programs has held relatively stable when compared to other institutions, as a leader in preparing educators, the College of Education is focused on finding solutions to the issues.
Building for the future
One of the recent efforts to promote the profession by the College of Education (COE) is the creation of the Future Teacher Conference. In October 2019, approximately 350 students from 26 Illinois high schools came to campus for the inaugural conference. The day informed and inspired these students about the process of becoming a teacher and what to expect after graduation as they enter the classroom. Students attended a variety of presentations covering topics such as navigating the college process, international teaching opportunities, high-demand subjects, and urban teaching experiences. Teachers in the field, staff from Regional Office of Education No. 17, and Illinois State University faculty-led the sessions.
The attendance of several representatives from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) underscored the importance of this event to promote the teaching profession. The conference is in direct alignment with the portion of ISBE’s strategic plan that emphasizes the need to identify prospective teachers while they are still in high school. Also present at the conference were State Representative Dan Brady and State Senators Jason Barickman ’98 and Christopher Belt ’94.
The idea for the conference came during numerous discussions in the College of Education and was organized by Kelli Appel ’89, director of enrollment and transition services, along with a committee of faculty and staff from several areas of teacher education.
“We created this event to provide opportunities for students to explore areas of teaching, learn about the teacher shortage, and hear positive voices of teacher candidates and current teachers,” Appel said. “Most students who attended the event confirmed that it enhanced their interest in teaching careers, so we are really looking forward to expanding it next year and beyond.”
While initially promoted to schools with Educators Rising chapters and other future teacher pathways for its first year, the 2020 conference committee has secured facility options that will allow more schools to participate. Teachers who oversee a high school teaching related course or extracurricular group are eligible to register.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Interested in signing up your group for the next conference? Contact Kelli Appel.
Rising to the occasion
In an effort to get more students thinking about teaching as a profession, many colleges and high schools are creating student organizations for future teachers. Students at Illinois State University and University High School (U-High) have embraced one of these organizations, Educators Rising. Educators Rising, an initiative of Phi Delta Kappa International, is a national membership organization that is focused on promoting teaching and recruiting teacher candidates from diverse backgrounds. It also helps members connect with peers and experts to understand what it is to be a teacher and how to explore teaching. More than 43,000 students and 2,400 schools are currently participating in Educators Rising.
While the Illinois State chapter has only been a part of Educators Rising for two years, the group has existed as Future Teachers of America for several years. This new affiliation has proven to be a great experience for members to prepare for their future careers, and the group now has access to a variety of digital resources, discussion materials, and microcredentials for professional development. The chapter hosts service projects, social activities, and guest speakers from the field to discuss important topics in education. In addition, they connect with local high schools, sharing experiences from their teacher preparation to give insight about the process and helping schools develop their own chapters.
U-High, one of the laboratory schools within the College of Education, started its own chapter this past school year. While still in its early stages, this organization has shown significant growth in numbers and involvement. Christine Paxson, M.S.E. ’16, curriculum director for the Laboratory Schools, and Tisha Ortega, M.A. ’11, Spanish teacher at U-High, helped form the group and serve as its co-directors. Both love that this organization helps students see what it is like to be a teacher and provides insight into the process to get there.
So far, the group has been able to visit Illinois State’s College of Education and has planned a variety of speakers and learning opportunities to help better understand the profession. They are also interested in developing partnerships with the Illinois State student chapter.
This chapter is well represented across all grade levels and is starting to garner more interest. In fact, during a recent prospective student open house, chapter members promoted the group to incoming freshmen. A significant amount of these students indicated an interest in pursuing education as a profession.
A seat at the table
Throughout the country, teacher preparation organizations are seeing the need for their members and teachers to be politically active. The College of Education recognizes the importance of being involved and is an active participant in the legislative process, especially at the state level. Faculty and staff participate in numerous state committees, including the licensure board, legislative liaisons with all public institutions, and a multitude of ISBE boards and task forces.
While the COE will work diligently to ensure the future of quality education in the state, there are opportunities for educators in the field to stay aware of current legislation and to provide their
own input. It can be a challenge for teachers and administrators to sift through the hundreds of bills under consideration each session. However, many professional organizations provide a wealth of information about pending legislation and how it might affect the profession. In many cases, educators can simply sign up for an email listserv. Additionally, COE’s social media pages will share information about upcoming bills.
Providing input on any bill can be done through the submission of a witness slip, as seen on the link below. These slips are very important to help inform the committee regarding the prevailing position on a specific bill. In some cases, no slips have been submitted on a bill, and the committee must make a decision without input from those with a vested interest.
Dr. Christy Borders, director of the Cecilia J. Lauby Teacher Education Center, is a member of numerous committees regarding pieces of educational legislation. One of Borders’ favorite quotes is from Jane West, a well-known federal educational lobbyist, who referenced the importance of being politically active: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Check out the Witness Slip User Guide at tinyurl.com/WitnessSlips to voice your opinion.
Illinois State University has a long history of preparing quality educators and will continue to serve as a leader in promoting careers in education. Together with faculty and staff, current teachers and administrators, and students, we can prepare all educators to make a difference and advance the profession.