Illinois faces a dire teacher shortage with 4,500 open education positions across the state. Your Redbirds are rising to meet the challenge.

The shortage, especially notable in high need areas such as rural and urban districts and special education positions, is impacting the entire state. Illinois State’s College of Education (COE) has committed to partnering with communities across the state to develop innovative teacher education programs that produce the highest quality educators. Three new community-based programs, grouped under the name CommuniTeach, will provide the high-quality education for which Illinois State is known in students’ home communities. The partnerships are specially designed with community partners, including school districts and community colleges.

CommuniTeach programs meet students where they are, providing flexible and nontraditional pathways that include integration into their home community for clinical experiences when possible and innovative curricula and course delivery.

“Our mission is to provide the highest quality teachers for Illinois and I’m proud of the work that our faculty and staff have done with many community partners,” said Dr. James Wolfinger, dean of the College of Education. “We will continuously work to develop innovative teacher education programs that meet the needs of future teachers and our communities to ensure the best education for our kids.”

Community Partner Pathway is a partnership with community colleges to prepare working professionals for licensure to teach elementary education with an ESL endorsement in their home communities. Current community college partners include Carl Sandburg College, Heartland Community College, Illinois Central College, Illinois Valley Community College, and Spoon River College.

“When Illinois State was approached about this idea to help rural school districts, they were eager to see how they could partner to address the teacher shortage crisis,” said Curt Oldfield ’97, president of Spoon River College. “Illinois State’s willingness to collaborate for the betterment of all of Illinois made this program come to life.”

Rural communities have been hit hard with the teacher shortage, and this strategic partnership will ensure that small communities and school districts will have more high-quality teachers. Together with the community colleges, the COE will prepare community members to teach in local schools. Students who are place bound because of work or family obligations will have the opportunity to expand their skillset and knowledge so they can earn a degree and Professional Educator License and enter the classroom as a teacher.

Students will take courses part time in online and hybrid settings, with limited face to face sessions being held on campus on Saturdays. The first cohort is planned to begin with Illinois State within the next two years and will consist of paraprofessionals who are already working in the classroom.

“As a proud Illinois State agriculture education alumnus who transferred from Spoon River College, I know firsthand the important role that school districts play in our rural Illinois communities,” said Oldfield. “I am proud that school districts, community colleges and Illinois State have come together to bring a high quality, creatively delivered solution that helps address the Illinois teacher shortage.”

Teach Chicago Tomorrow is a partnership with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) that will prepare CPS alumni for successful careers at CPS schools. Graduates from the program will have deep community bonds, extensive field experience, and coursework designed around the needs of CPS students, all of which will help ensure a high-quality teaching workforce and longevity in the schools. This new program is a long-term strategy to prepare quality teachers who reflect the student population in CPS schools.

Chicago students will participate in education pathway activities in CPS and then complete an associate’s degree and pre-requisite coursework at Truman College in Chicago. The Illinois State program will consist of summer bridge programming, online and hybrid coursework, and face to face courses held in Chicago. In their last year of college, students will complete a year-long student teaching experience in a CPS school.

Students can choose from the following majors: Special Education Learning and Behavior Specialist, Elementary Education with ESL endorsement, or Bilingual-Bicultural Elementary Education.

“With this new structure, we are excited to prepare quality teachers for the city of Chicago in many high-need teaching areas,” said Wolfinger. “CPS approached us with a serious teacher shortage issue, and we are ready to work collaboratively with them and the City Colleges to meet the challenge ahead so that we can continue to prepare the best teachers for Illinois.”

The hallmark of this program is strategic student support and intensive community involvement. Teachers who are engaged in the community and understand the local culture are much more likely to be successful in the classroom. The National Center for Urban Education (NCUE) in COE has been doing just that for over 17 years in Chicago. NCUE has extensive partnerships with community organizations focused on education and CPS schools. Now NCUE will use their well-established model to prepare CPS students to teach in CPS schools, through the Summer Bridge Program.

The Summer Bridge Program will be a requirement of Teach Chicago Tomorrow for each of the four summers leading into an academic year. This cohort model program will focus on students learning about Chicago’s vibrant communities and how those communities can provide support during teaching. It will include mentorship opportunities, immersive community projects and activities, visits to Illinois State’s campus, and licensure exam preparation. The first cohort began this summer.

“NCUE is very intentional when working with pre-service teachers to include learning about the communities in which they will be teaching,” said NCUE Executive Director Dr. Maria Zamudio. “Each community has its own distinct culture and community assets. Since our students may teach in a different neighborhood than where they grew up in Chicago, it’s vitally important for them to understand the culture and resources in the community where they will teach.”

With its first semester complete, the Teach for Tomorrow: Peoria program is preparing students to become licensed special education teachers in the greater Peoria area. The program is designed for working professionals, primarily teaching assistants and substitute teachers.

“This program is so exciting because we are respecting the work experience that many of these students have,” said Jayme Corcoran, instructional assistant professor. “They have unique challenges related to family and work obligations, but we can tackle these effectively as a cohort. Experience is an enormously important benefit for these students to be successful when they enter the classroom.”

The part-time coursework is hybrid with face to face instruction taking place in Peoria. Students are working, studying, and student teaching in their home communities, which are in need of more special education teachers. The first cohort will graduate in August 2023 with a bachelor’s degree and a Professional Educator License with a K-21 Learning and Behavior Specialist endorsement.

“The Teach for Tomorrow program is offering me courses that I normally wouldn’t be able to attend and I’m excited to finally finish my degree,” said O.J. Skinner, a current student. “I live in the same area where my students live, I have a lot in common with them, and me finishing my degree gives them a little hope.”

The College of Education is thrilled to innovate, adapt, and collaborate with these partners and looks forward to new opportunities that help achieve our mission of preparing the highest quality teachers for the state of Illinois.