The ongoing and persistent teacher shortage is one major dimension to the overall crisis our rural schools face. Another critical element, made worse by the stresses of educating during the pandemic, is a growing deficit of substitute teachers. For many of the same reasons people leave the education career, or choose not to join at all, rural districts struggle to find substitutes to fill the ever-growing gap in teaching staff. However, time and again folks have shown that through innovation, relationships, and a tenacity to get things done, rural areas can pull together to find novel solutions to even the toughest of challenges.
Recently, the Education Studies department at Monmouth College, one of our Illinois Regional Hub anchors, partnered with their regional office of education to open a new pathway for pre-service teachers to gain classroom experience while filling the great need for substitutes and educators: short-term substituting. The article below, originally published on Monmouth College's website, interviews Dr. Tom Sargent, a professor in the department, and students taking hold of the opportunity.
By Barry McNamara - published 12/02/21
Monmouth College’s educational studies department is already on top of a major issue, helping prepare its graduates to work in rural school districts, where there has been a shortage of teachers.
Now the department is standing out among all Illinois teacher-preparation programs in answering another call for help, as area school districts are running low on substitute teachers because of the pandemic.
“Recently, the state of Illinois created opportunities for individuals to become short-term substitute teachers due to the emergency situation because of COVID-19 and the general teacher shortage,” said Monmouth educational studies professor Tom Sargent.
Monmouth students can already be found working in most area schools as student teachers, gaining valuable real-world classroom experience. Sargent and his department colleagues determined that the situation was dire enough to also have qualified students become short-term subs.
“It became evident that this is a great need in the state and in our area,” he said. “Some schools are having to combine classes to get by. Some subs are coming in that have no idea of how to run a classroom, and that duty is falling to the student teachers who are there. So we thought, ‘Why aren’t we helping the area schools out?’”
Answering the Call
Monmouth students were told about the opportunity on the College’s Mentoring Day (Oct. 19).
“We had 30 spaces we could fill, and we now have 28 kids signed up,” said Sargent in November. “Nov. 10 was the first day they could teach in the schools.”
““This is a novel concept. No other teacher education program in the state is doing this.””
Sargent said the plan is for Monmouth students to fill in when they
can, with the realization that a single student would be unlikely to
teach multiple full days in a row.
“Our students have their own classes to take, so they can’t do this all day, every day,” he said. “But they can cover partial days, or they can work certain full days. Working part of a day is ideal for them, although some of our students have Fridays that are completely open, which is a high-need day in many school districts.”
In the past, Monmouth students who might have considered being substitute teachers while they were still on campus were deterred by the red tape and paperwork involved, said Sargent.
“Our teacher licensure candidates just didn’t have the time during the day to do all the things required,” he said. “That became a barrier not to do it.”
Now, through a new agreement with the Illinois Regional Office of Education, the applications and other paperwork are part of an “easily managed system.”
Leading a Familiar Classroom
Many Monmouth teacher licensure candidates are out in the field doing
their student teaching, and the change will provide another benefit,
“If their cooperating teacher needs to be out, the student can just take over the class, rather than take a back seat to a substitute teacher who is coming in cold to that particular classroom,” he said. “Or, if the district gets in a pinch, they could pull that cooperating teacher to fill in elsewhere, and the student teacher is already in place for a more seamless transition.”
““I’m excited about the opportunity to substitute teach. … Schools are in desperate need for good teachers and Monmouth College prepares its students well to do just that.””
Sargent said he learned about such a situation from one of his students, senior Ashlyn Welch of Grain Valley, Missouri.
“Ashlyn is the one who really pushed me on this,” said Sargent of the short-term substitute initiative. “Her cooperating teacher had been out several days.”
“I’m excited about the opportunity to substitute teach,” said Welch. “I think it will be an awesome way to gain additional experience in the classroom before graduation, as well as provide the chance for authentic engagement with the community. Schools are in desperate need for good teachers and Monmouth College prepares its students well to do just that.”
‘Novel’ Concept is a Win-Win
The opportunity is open to teacher licensure candidates who have at least 45 semester hours of experience.
“It’s a win-win opportunity,” said Sargent. “We’ll have a new group coming up next year that will have their 45 hours in,” and will be able to take advantage of the opportunity, which runs out in June of 2023.
“This is a novel concept,” he added. “No other teacher education program in the state is doing this.”
And Illinois education officials are grateful that the College stepped up.
“Monmouth College helped make a dent in the shortage of substitute teachers in our region, and we thank them,” said Assistant Regional Superintendent Lori Loving.
In The News
Check out the story about the initiative by WHBF-4.