About him latest episode of The Learning ProjectA podcast from the UK’s Faculty of Education, the conversation focuses on how the university is playing a role in filling the shortage of substitute teachers, as well as the need to attract and prepare more students for successful careers in education.
After decades of declining enrollment in teacher education programs in the US and the stress of the recent pandemic on the profession, school systems have struggled to maintain sufficient staffing to keep schools open in 2021 and 2022.
Hearing the call for help, leaders from the College of Education stepped forward with a thoughtful approach to balance partner school districts’ need for substitutes and enhance the career-preparing student experience.
“In Kentucky, we actually have a statute that doesn’t allow student teachers to be paid. Fortunately, in the spring of 2021, the state was able to waive that statute for our students to serve as substitutes and help with the shortage,” said Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, senior associate dean for academic programs and partnerships in the College of Education.
Students were able to fill more than 450 substitute spots in the spring of 2021 and almost as many last fall. Mohr-Schroeder predicts that number may exceed this semester, based on the number of student substitution requests so far.
“Being able to substitute has really been a validation of my love of teaching and has shown me that I enjoy being in class all day with the students and forming those bonds with them,” said Kate Black, an elementary school senior. .
When schools cannot secure enough substitute teachers, College of Education students hired as substitutes can remain in the classroom where they already serve, allowing the lead teacher to fill in for a colleague. This arrangement allows college students to take charge of the classroom where they have been honing their teaching skills, instead of being in front of a class of students they have never taught.
“One of the things you will hear a million times in school is that behavior management is very important. That is something that is so daunting as a new teacher or as a student teacher,” Black said. “After having the opportunity to substitute in my student’s teaching placement, I have really felt more confident in myself and my behavior management skills. I feel like I’ve done it on my own, and I know I can do it now.”
University leaders say the experience highlights a critical point in finding long-term solutions to the growing need for teachers: Effective teaching requires much more than subject matter knowledge.
“We need to address the teacher shortage in a way that doesn’t hurt students because if we’re going to focus on how we can rush people into the classroom, they’re going to be intimidated, they’re not going to have the experience they need. successful and they won’t stay,” said UK College of Education Dean Julian Vásquez Heilig. “We have to think about how that could sabotage our education system.”
Divya Lyman, an elementary school senior, agrees, highlighting the key role teachers play in students’ lives. “It’s more than a data sharing role, but, as you know, a social-emotional connection with teachers that these students are happy to see every day,” Lyman said. “I think that’s the most important thing. That is what keeps me going throughout my teaching as a student and continues to push me to pursue this profession and be the best teacher I can be for my students.”
Otherwise, teaching becomes “sterile,” Mohr-Schroeder said. “We want to see them walk into the classroom with a sense of purpose, drive, passion, and empathy. That’s why we’re there and I think sometimes it’s a little hard to figure out, especially when you’re starting out in the classroom.”
Teacher Training Program students in the UK are immersed in field experiences early in their studies and gradually develop their skills and understanding of not only what they are teaching but also how to teach.
While these experiences help aspiring teachers gain confidence in their professional abilities, the path to selecting education as a major in college can be filled with questions and uncertainty. To help counter that, the university is sharing real-life stories from aspiring teachers to inspire high school students to consider education as a career option.
“What we know about Generation Z is that you care; you want to make a difference,” Vásquez Heilig said. “And that’s how the university has been presenting the case to young people. We want to bring Generation Z into the teacher training program because we want them to have the opportunity to leave a legacy.”
For Lyman, leaving a legacy means creating a community of understanding. She feels that without that foundation, it is difficult for academic growth and learning to occur.
“Just the fact that he is of a different ethnicity will help students understand that different perspectives exist, not only in their classroom but also in a position of authority. I didn’t understand what a big difference it would make until I was in the classroom. I surprised myself. Having my perspective will help me as a teacher,” Lyman said.
Mohr-Schroeder said Lyman’s story emphasizes the importance of recruiting a diverse group of students for careers in education.
“We know from research that students in classrooms where they have teachers who look like them or come from backgrounds like them develop more of a relationship with the teacher and their teacher becomes a mentor,” Mohr-Schroeder said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need in both the short and long term to keep the teaching workforce strong with well-prepared, high-quality educators.
“There is a lot of pressure on educators and I think we have to think about how not to rush the process and make sure we send experienced and prepared teachers to every student. How do we do that in a way that allows Gen Z to enter the profession to thrive and stay, Vasquez Heilig said.
Teacher preparation programs play a key role in the success of educators, Black believes. “The most important thing about teaching is the community you create on campus,” Black said. “Find out the support organizations at your university and get to know your fellow students, because they can really help you and push you forward in school and professionally. I didn’t realize until I really dug into the educational program that it would be more effective, not only in classroom teaching, but in the social/emotional aspect of learning. I just can’t say enough good things about the resources we’ve had.”
Lyman feels that her courses have prepared her well in classroom management and content, but also as a passionate teacher who will be able to inspire her students to be successful learners.
“I’ve come this far and honestly, I can’t wait to graduate. I am excited to see what the future holds for my academic and professional career,” said Lyman. “It truly is the most rewarding career anyone can experience and the best decision I’ve ever made.”
For more information on becoming a teacher, visit https://education.uky.edu/admissions/become-a-teacher-at-uk/.