(light music) (upbeat music) - Welcome to another edition of "InFocus."
This time we're taking a closer look at the people who teach our children.
There's a teacher shortage in Illinois, and in many cases across the nation.
But there's not a lot of information out about what's happening and how it's being fixed.
So we thought we'd go right to the source and find out exactly what's happening, and what in Illinois is being done to try and stem the tide.
We're talking with regional superintendents on this edition of "InFocus."
Lorie LeQuatte is the Regional Superintendent for ROE 21 and based in Marion.
John Meixner is the Superintendent for ROE 26 based in Macomb.
Thank you both so much for joining us.
- Thank you.
- Yeah, thank you.
- So people have probably seen the headlines.
They've probably heard a few stories.
Maybe they know their kids have had days where their teacher isn't in front of the classroom.
They've had to have a substitute teacher or someone else.
But they're not really sure why there's a shortage.
So Lorie, let's start with you.
What's happening, and how is it impacting local school districts?
- We're seeing a decline in the teacher supply chain, that not only includes certified teachers with a professional educator license, it also includes support staff such as teachers' aides, bus drivers, and cooking staff, which are all needed in order to run a school and provide the type of learning environment where our students can be successful.
John, I know that you've been involved in a lot of surveys, and a really intensive look at what's happening on the ground in these school districts, and then what the Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents might be able to do in terms of advocating for change.
What have those surveys shown over the last couple of years?
- So, yeah, I've been the chair of the committee that has put this together the last two or three years.
Our association has been doing this study for six years now.
So it's got some pretty good long-term data, and our study had an 80% return rate of our district superintendents throughout the state.
And it is showing that it is getting worse.
The educator shortage in the state is definitely getting worse, and it is at a crisis level.
What we've noticed, the areas that we noticed the bigger shortages were the Southeast part of the state and the West Central.
That was maybe correlated to the population dips in those areas.
Also, what we'd realized is that the applicant pools are shrinking in the suburban areas.
So instead of like say 200 applicants, now they only have like 50.
Whereas in the rural areas, we're seeing applications of zero, zero people applying for a PE job, or especially special ed.
Special ed, it seems to be one of the highest areas that there is a shortage of.
So yeah, and like Lorie referred, it is also bleeding into the support staff as well, which is the bus drivers, a lot of the paraprofessionals and aides.
so it is affecting the entire system of our school districts now.
You know, and what are we doing or what are we asking that the state does, it essentially is a lot of what you're continuing to do.
This state board of education has done a fantastic job in the last few years of really trying to change some of the legislator, excuse me, the licensure laws.
And the legislators have done a nice job of passing some bills to try to aid in that.
So we expect now, what what we're asking for, is to really fully fund the education continuum all the way from the early child and all the way to college.
And if you look at the governor's last proposal, it does do a nice job of that.
We hope it'll continue that.
The evidence-based funding model is working.
It's just gonna take a while.
And we need more money to insert it into the fund, into the system in order to help lower that gap of equity funding between some of the richer school districts and some of the less-funded ones.
They are doing a nice job of it, and it definitely is showing an increased shortage in our especially rural areas.
Lorie, John mentioned that one of the areas that's seeing the highest numbers of vacancies and not being able to fill those vacancies is the Southeast part of the state.
Your district stretches all the way into Massac County, which is the far Southeastern part of the state.
What are you hearing from school district administrators there about how they're getting people in front of, whether it's in front of the classroom, or as you mentioned, in those cafeterias, driving the buses, all those things that make a school district work?
Our districts are still struggling to find teachers for classrooms, teachers with a professional educator license.
However, they have been able to recruit retired teachers to serve in that capacity.
We are looking for the legislature to expand the number of days that retired teachers can teach so as not to affect their retirement.
We're also looking at utilizing substitute teachers.
We would also like to utilize people with a bachelor's or a master's degree from the business sector who didn't go through the teacher education program, to have a pathway into licensure, who would like to become teachers and pursue that path.
Our superintendents are also reporting frustrations with the mandates, unfunded mandates specifically, that's really crowding out the teacher creativity, whereas our teachers are dealing with a lot of the culture wars as John had mentioned, and social-emotional issues.
And our teachers just really need to remove some of the stress of the mandates in order to focus on what they do best.
And that's teaching our students how to read and write and how to think, and not necessarily what to think.
And they need to have that freedom and creativity.
- John, Lorie brings up a good point.
I hear from a lot of teachers and other school employees that things are different now than perhaps when the three of us were growing up and going through elementary and high school.
And so there's a lot more that the teachers and the aides and others have to be aware of and have to be working on outside of just a lesson plan.
How is that impacting whether or not people want to become a teacher in the first place?
- Yeah, that seems to be a real issue now, what we noticed.
But I think COVID really highlighted a lot of it, you know, going remote learning and stuff.
It really kind of just disrupted the system a little bit.
You know, a lot of our teachers under a lot of stress.
And what we've done is we have not highlighted how much of an amazing field or profession this really is.
And that's one of the things that we've been trying to advocate for, is, you know, we've gotta really start, ourselves as educators have really gotta start highlighting the field to really make it, you know, more interesting and more appealing for younger generations to get into.
So we usually say, you know, "Hey, this profession is the profession that begins all professions."
And we've gotta have a little bit better message out to the people on this.
So yeah, some of the stresses that we're seeing is, you know, from a social-emotional aspect.
A lot of the culture wars are hitting the school districts first.
You know, that happened with the mask mandates.
during the COVID areas.
Now it's just trickling into some other areas, and it's really starting to tax a lot of the administrators and school personnel.
But the state has pumped a lot of money from the feds into the state.
It's pumped a lot of money into the social-emotional aspect of our children and our staff members.
Our ROEs do have some people trained that are helping out school districts on this avenue.
So I mean, we feel like we're really trying.
it just needs to kind of continue, and the funding cannot stop on this.
We really have got to, we've gotta address the stresses that are related to educating.
- Sure, and like so many things, the stresses and the socioeconomic issues, those didn't start overnight, and the fix probably won't happen overnight either.
When we talk about fixes, Lorie, I know that your office and some others are involved in a program called Subs for Subs.
And it's an opportunity for people to learn more about becoming a substitute teacher, and perhaps even begin that process.
Are you seeing interest there?
Are people signing up to to try and help stem the tide here?
- Yes, our Subs for Subs program has been very successful.
We've hosted one each month for the past year and will continue to do so.
It's an opportunity for people who qualify to apply for a substitute license, to come to our office.
We provide a training that teaches, that explains what a substitute teacher does, what the code of conduct would be, how to integrate with the school systems.
We also get them signed up on the ELIS account, which is the teacher, you know, the substitute teacher account on ISBE, as well as fingerprint and background checks.
Then we put 'em on our list, which then allows them to sub in any of the four counties that I serve.
John, what about that pipeline that we were talking about as things got started.
Not just college students who have decided that teaching is the profession that they wanna choose, but getting into high school and elementary schools and saying, "Hey, maybe you should consider teaching when you get to college."
- Yeah, two factors that we've been looking at.
First of all, it's that teacher that needs to tap a kid on the shoulder, you could say.
Tap a kid on the shoulder to say, "Hey, this is a field I think you'd be really good at."
And the impact that has on a student is pretty impactful.
So what also what we've been doing in the Western side of the state is we work very closely with Western Illinois University.
They have a couple of programs there that have been really fantastic.
One is the Master of Arts in Teaching program, which allows some people that are already in a field, say banking for instance, who wants to change it into education.
The Master of Arts in Teaching program allows them to immediately start as a teacher, under provisional status.
As they're taking classes, they are the teacher of record in the school building.
They also have a program that allows paraprofessionals to get their professional educator license through a pathway.
So those two programs have been really a godsend to a lot of the districts in the Western side of the state.
The program has, the numbers have really skyrocketed just in the last few semesters.
And it's been a real benefit.
Again, but there has to be some funding put into the system in order to sustain something like that.
Finally, Lorie, I'll ask, for people who may want to get involved or may want to learn more, is it best to call their local Regional Office of Education, or should they call their local school district?
- They should start with their local Regional Office of Education, and we can direct them to the path that they need, that they're interested in.
- Certainly, and we can get that information here on "InFocus."
You can find it on our website as well.
I'd like to thank Lorie LeQuatte and John Meixner for taking the time to talk to us about this teacher shortage.
I'm sure it's an issue that we'll be touching base on in the future as well.
Thank you both.
- Thank you.
Thank you for the opportunity.
- Thank you.
- And we heard John and Lorie talking about how to build the pipeline of future teachers, but many are still questioning just how to do that.
WSIU's Benjy Jeffords shows us how SIU is recruiting the next generation of teachers during a special Education Day.
- [Benjy] Stories about teacher shortages are everywhere, but many wonder what's being done to fix the problem.
SIU sent out an invite to Southern Illinois high school students interested in becoming a teacher, and received a lot of interest.
- Originally, we expected between 150 to 180 students to attend, and we doubled that by getting to 300.
- [Benjy] Shannon Schroeder says the pandemic took a toll on teachers in every state.
- I think teachers had a hard time being one of those essential employees.
But also in that time, they had to completely change the way that they taught.
So every class that they had to teach had to be moved to something virtual.
And I think it just was very difficult for teachers.
- [Benjy] To create a pipeline for high school students to become teachers, SIU held Education Day featuring the School of Education.
- That is one of the main drives behind the school, or the SIU Education Day, is to try and get as many students interested in education through a program, so that way we can try to combat that teacher shortage.
- [Benjy] The students had different reasons for exploring a career in education.
- Growing up, I have never really felt super comfortable in a classroom, and I've always wanted to be able to provide that to future kids, future students.
I want them to feel safe and happy and loved by everyone.
Like I want kids to feel comfortable in a classroom, more than what I've gotten to have.
- I've always really loved teaching people, and I love seeing the face and feeling that they get when they finally understand something.
And I've always loved to learn, and I want to pass that passion on to other students as well.
- Growing up, I had a racist teacher before.
And like I wanna show kids that not everybody is racist, and there actually is a lot of fun teachers out here.
- I'm here because I plan on being an educator after high school and college.
I am involved in a lot of education programs at school and I really love it, so I thought this would be super fun.
- I really didn't like education up until high school.
And like it really changed for me once when we like kind of got involved in the history and English classes.
So once when we started learning more about what happened, besides just the basic stuff from like World War II, we learned more about say William Shakespeare or like Abraham Lincoln.
So we learned that stuff, and it really just kind of pushed me to do more.
- I've been impacted by a lot of my teachers growing up, that have really made me want to go into education and just impact kids the way that they have impacted me.
And I just wanna be there for kids and just show them that their school can be fun without having to be all work.
- [Benjy] The students had a chance to check out many aspects of college life, including dorms, classrooms, Morris Library, and the Child Development Laboratory.
They also heard from current SIU students, and had the opportunity to ask them questions.
- Growing up in school, I wasn't the best student.
I had a hard time.
And I had one teacher that just helped me, pushed me, and I ended better than I started.
So I wanna be that person to help people that struggle in school.
- [Benjy] They heard about the different paths to become a teacher.
- Typically, when you would go in your senior year, like Katie and Amber, at least.
I know for sure they go one day a week right now.
And I'm actually in the classroom four days a week, and I have one day off.
And so on my one day off, that's when I do my homework and my other coursework that those students are doing during the day.
And so I get to start the school year with the students and finish the school year with the students.
- Olivia's lucky enough to be in a classroom every single day.
And I do regret not doing that because it's so cool.
And like that experience that you get is nothing compared to what you'll get in the traditional route.
But being in the traditional route like I am, I am still so excited to go on Wednesdays, like Wednesdays are my full days.
And classes in the traditional route are not easy.
Like I will warn you with that.
They are not easy.
You need to work your butt off.
- [Benjy] Schroeder says they also use this event to clear up misconceptions about being a teacher to the students.
- It's not always been the best career option, unless you have a passion for it, in terms of salary.
And that's changed drastically too.
A lot of people think, you know, teachers' salaries are not something you can live off of.
And I'm not saying that they are getting paid what they should, because they do amazing work and go above and beyond.
- [Benjy] SIU offers a diverse selection of majors for students to pursue their teaching degree.
- Overall, between the School of Education and SIU in general, we have 12 different degrees that go through the Teacher Education program, which means they're licensed to teach in the state of Illinois once they graduate.
- [Benjy] Schroeder hopes recruiting students from Southern Illinois will keep a steady supply of teachers in the area.
- I think a lot of students come to SIU Carbondale and fall in love with the area and end up staying.
But also, a lot of students who are interested in teaching imagine themselves teaching back where they went to school or in a similar area.
- [Benjy] For "InFocus," I'm Benjy Jeffords.
- We're back on "InFocus," taking another look at a different education-related issue.
Illinois has a new law that requires schools to teach students about media literacy.
But there are still some questions that remain and some working through that has to be done.
We're talking about that in this segment with Michael Hayman, who is a librarian at Collinsville Middle School.
And Leah Gregory, the school's membership coordinator for the Illinois Heartland Library System.
Thank you both for joining us.
- Thank you.
- Thank you for having us.
- So Leah, I'll start with you.
People may or may not be familiar with the fact that Illinois has this law.
I believe it is unique in the nation in terms of requiring students to have some form of media literacy before they graduate.
Is that correct?
- That is correct.
It was passed into law about last year of this time, and it went into effect for this school year, '22-'23.
And it requires all public schools, all public high schools in Illinois to offer a unit of media literacy instruction.
- As I understand it, the guidelines are a little bit vague.
And schools are having some trouble understanding or working through just what is required.
Michael, you are a school librarian.
You teach students about media and checking sources and things like that all the time.
What are you doing in terms of helping students be prepared for this?
- Well, what I'm doing is trying to find avenues for them to publish.
You know, usually, at least in my professional teaching opinion, having students work on projects, producing projects is the best way to teach them about this.
Because it's difficult.
What is media literacy?
A lot of people don't, we say it a lot, but a lot of people don't exactly know what that means or what it is or what bias is.
How do we teach bias?
Well, we can teach it by discovering our own biases.
So I have students doing podcasts.
I have students doing videos.
I'm still working with the English teachers on publications in our local newspaper.
You know, and really getting them going, writing, speaking, publishing in all forms of media.
And that's going to, at least that's my vision for what school librarians should be doing.
- Leah, when it comes to library educators, how critical are they to this media literacy component?
- I like to think that it can't be done without school librarians.
School librarians are trained in every facet of information literacy, and media literacy is part of that.
When they replace a librarian with someone who can check books in and out, who doesn't have that training, I believe it's a huge disservice to the students of Illinois.
- Michael, when you're talking about the skills that students need to learn, is it made more difficult by the fact that media really encompasses everything that students are taking in right now?
- Well, the skills needed, one is critical thinking, you know.
And then at the same time there has to be a real-world project.
There has to be some connection there, more than I'm getting a grade for this.
There has to be, you know, they have to be, I don't wanna, their feet have to be put to the fire.
It's a performance.
You know, writing, you're putting your ideas out there; you're organizing your thoughts in some sequential way that can be understood by others.
And a lot of this project-based learning has to happen.
And it's not like education hasn't been talking about project-based learning just in the past few years.
It's been talked about for decades.
And what's exciting for me is technology now is a lot easier.
It's become cheaper.
You know, I have podcasting equipment as a middle school library.
You know, that's really exciting.
They never had that opportunity before.
We have websites, we have access to databases, we have access to newspapers.
You know, we've never had this much access to information.
But with that information, as we see in the media, you know, there's biases.
There's a jungle out there that we have to be able to navigate.
And we have to realize that there are opposing viewpoints.
And one of the databases that we have from Gale is called Opposing Viewpoints.
And there's no better way to teach it except for exploring it, either through a paper production like at the high school.
One of the greatest things that our school district's school board has ever done is required a research paper for every year at high school.
That ensures that they do get this, you know, they do get instruction on databases, they do get instruction on bias, they do get instruction on what media sources are valid and what are not.
And that's going to be the only way that we can do this.
My role here more at the middle school is I'm really focused on, not only with students but also with teachers, helping them develop or making them aware of opportunities that maybe was never available to them when they were in school.
So video production, audio production, access and submission to a professional organization of student work.
That's exciting to me.
And I think it's exciting for the school, and I think it's exciting for the students and their families.
- Leah, just in the short amount of time that we have remaining, a lot of school districts, particularly in rural areas, are struggling with finances.
And library resources are sometimes on the chopping block.
How critical are librarians and the libraries in making sure that this media literacy component is successful?
- They're absolutely critical.
And I always say, "If you have a library but you don't have a librarian, you just have a room full of books."
You don't have anybody there to teach.
The critical, as Michael said, the critical thinking, the analysis, the understanding of not all information is good information.
And librarians are trained to wade through that with students.
So I think they are absolutely critical to this mission.
Leah Gregory is with the Illinois Heartland Library System.
Michael Hayman is a librarian at Collinsville Middle School.
It's a complicated issue, and I'm sure we'll be checking back as the year goes on.
Thank you both for your time.
- Thank you.
- Thank you.
- And thank you for joining us on "InFocus" for this episode.
You can find all of our episodes online at wsiu.org and at our YouTube channel.
I'm Jennifer Fuller.
We'll catch you next time.
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