Help wanted: Teachers.
Across the United States the teaching profession, one historically considered critical to the future of the country, has been struggling to find the next wave of educators or simply to fill existing positions. The number of students going into college teacher education programs dropped from 11% of college students in 2000 to 4.3% in 2018.
Partially as a result, Wisconsin K-12 schools made 2,805 emergency teacher hires in 2019-20, rising to nearly 3,700 in 2020 when the pandemic began, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Every state had teacher shortages in 2020.
Although the situation could improve as the pandemic wanes, the impacts of fewer high school graduates going into teaching fields will be felt for years to come, said Deanna Schultz, director of the School of Education at University of Wisconsin-Stout.
The door is open for jobs in many teaching disciplines. UW-Stout provides seven four-year programs as well as options for those with professional experience seeking certification and a teacher’s license.
“Nearly every community has a public school and they provide stable jobs with good pay and benefits, plus a schedule that allows parents to be on a schedule similar to their children. It is a great career for a high school student to consider, as well as someone who likes working with young people and is considering a career change,” Schultz said.
“We have education students who are passionate about teaching and bring excitement to the classroom. As we emerge from the pandemic, we are seeing some increased interest in education as a career,” Schultz added.
In November, the university held its first Teach Day, a daylong program to help high school students explore a teaching career. The School of Education hopes to expand the event to include students interested in all teacher education discipline areas offered at UW-Stout.
A resource for those interested in teaching is coming up. The virtual Wisconsin Education Recruitment Fair is from 3 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 31. Participants can talk with school districts across the state and U.S. about position openings.
A degree opens the doors to teach and prepares students to make a difference in the lives of children and young adults.
“Our approach to learning prepares students to walk into that first classroom and be ready. I’m so proud of our faculty and staff and what they do to prepare students for working in our K-12 school systems,” Schultz said.
“School performance is typically measured by students’ academic performance, and having qualified teachers in each classroom positively impacts student performance.”
Allison Rigotti graduated from UW-Stout in 2019 with a degree in marketing and business education. She was hired in the Melrose-Mindoro school district, in west-central Wisconsin. In fall 2021, she received the Early Career Teacher of the Year award from the Wisconsin Marketing Education Association.
“The teachers and mentors (at UW-Stout) are amazing. They are all so devoted to seeing students succeed. That makes it easy to get excited about the major and get excited about teaching,” Rigotti said.
Teacher education programs at UW-Stout engage students in their major the first year with hands-on opportunities and small class sizes.
Brianna North, of Greenwood, is a senior majoring in early childhood education and plans to become certified to teach through the sixth grade level. “I really like the polytechnic and hands-on experiences. It’s the reason I looked into Stout and only Stout,” North said.
UW-Stout’s teacher education majors have a 99% employment rate within six months of graduating.
Online programs offer flexibility
To support adult and place-bound learners who are interested in teaching, UW-Stout offers five of its seven undergraduate teaching programs online. The UW System recently approved an online program for early childhood education, which also is offered on campus.
“The online programs have grown each year and are serving adult learners well,” Schultz said. “These programs serve individuals who may already be working in schools on emergency licenses or adults who are changing careers.
“We pride ourselves in creating an engaging online learning environment for our students,” Schultz added, citing student discussions, robust faculty feedback and technical support from Stout Online.
The university works closely with technical colleges to help students transfer credits, work toward a bachelor’s degree and become certified to teach.