Amid shortage of teachers, Illinois high schoolers can fast-track to a career in education – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

Each day for Tim Kosiek, an education prep teacher at Buffalo Grove High School, is a new opportunity to inspire students in Ed Academy, an elective class he teaches as part of the Education Career Pathways program.

Once a week, those students work at internships with partnering school districts.

”They are out in classrooms, teaching,” Kosiek said. “They send me pictures and they look the part, they act the part. … They are so well equipped. I look back to when these opportunities didn’t exist and it’s amazing. These kids get to be in classrooms and really see if they love it.”

The class is part of an Illinois State Board of Education grant program that gives over 10,000 high school students the tools and insights they need to explore a career in education at a time when schools across the state are facing teacher shortages.

The grants — open to all Illinois public school districts — are just a starting point. Districts use the grants to design and implement their own Education Career Pathways program for their students.

At Buffalo Grove, the variety of electives offered through the program includes an in-house lab preschool.

“Right across from my classroom is a preschool,” Kosiek said. “It’s got 16 kids that are there all day long, every day.”

Kosiek recently took 40 of his students to a Future Educators Conference at Harper College that hosted 500 students from Township High School District 214 and Barrington Community Unit 220 School District, among others. The students ranged from freshmen to seniors, and many are in the education pathway at their respective schools.

Kosiek said the conference furthered some students’ interest in education. “Even some of the students that were on the fence and are still debating if education is for them enjoyed seeing more people say they love what they do,” he said.

Education Career Pathways and other initiatives have increased enrollment in educator preparation programs in Illinois by 41%, from 8,534 in 2017 to 12,069 in 2021, according to ISBE.

Despite the increase in student interest, ISBE reported Illinois had 2,139 unfilled teaching positions in October 2021, with most of the unfilled positions concentrated in underresourced communities and in bilingual and special education roles.

When ISBE launched the grant program in 2020, one of the main goals was to help school districts better meet the needs of their local teacher pipeline, said ISBE spokeswoman Jackie Matthews.

ISBE said it has released $18 million in total Education Career Pathways grants through three rounds of grant funding.

According to ISBE, a total of 171 high schools now offer the program for 10,805 students, including students in the Barrington Community Unit 220 School District.

Educator prep instructor Tom Kosiek teaches an Ed Academy class at Buffalo Grove High School on Feb. 13, 2023.

District 220′s Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Melissa Byrne said the education pathways program allows students to get a seal on their diplomas indicating that they participated in individualized course plans that included a 60-hour internship as part of work-based learning.

“Students interested in elementary can go work with an elementary school teacher within District 220, or middle school or high school teacher,” said Ben Rodriguez, assistant principal and coordinator of career pathways and community partnerships at Barrington High School.

Rodriguez said the program is built for students to explore future careers while having the resources to try new things.

“We don’t ever want to lock a student into a pathway — there should always be on-ramps and off-ramps to every experience,” he said. “Both choices are powerful — whether students decide they want to explore a field in education after taking courses in the education pathway or not.”

ISBE officials noted that the grants aim to increase the diversity of the state’s teacher workforce.

According to ISBE, 45% of students in the pathway program identify as Black or Hispanic, compared with just 14% of current teachers.

“We really want to make it accessible to all students,” Rodriguez said. “Our student population demographics are changing, so we want to make sure the teaching force also reflects our student population.”

Kosiek stressed how important it is to have a relationship with his students that isn’t reduced to curriculum or grades.

Keysie Barrios, a Hispanic student at Buffalo Grove High School, says her goal of becoming a teacher is due to the school’s variety of education classes that allow students to explore different levels of teaching.

Barrios, a junior, is interested in teaching middle school, “sort of the lost group no one wants to teach,” she said.

Barrios began taking classes in the education pathway at the beginning of the school year and Kosiek’s teaching style made her want to continue in the program, she said.

“I kind of had a rough start to my high school career,” she said. “COVID really changed me and this year was a whole new start.”

Barrios works every day after school at the nearby Cafe Zupas to help her parents and siblings pay household bills.

“I work right after school. I start around 4:30,” she said. “My dad works two jobs and my parents are getting older, so I’ve just been helping them out and helping with my little sister.”

For students who have external challenges to deal with on top of the rigors of high school, a fast-track formula like the education pathway gives back some control over their futures, Kosiek said.

While he’s been teaching education pathway courses for four years, Kosiek has watched students get to the end of their college careers and into their own classrooms.

“I was an engineer for four years. I never thought about being a teacher when I was in high school,” Kosiek said of the program. “I don’t expect enrollment to explode, but I hope that students who wouldn’t have thought of it or considered it know that it exists and that maybe they can try it out,”

Sophomore Iranett Camacho from Rolling Meadows High School in District 214 has been following the education pathway since freshman year and is enrolled in the lab class where students can teach preschoolers.

“I knew I wouldn’t want to do high school or middle school, but I was stuck between late elementary or early elementary,” Camacho said. “And taking this class, I was like, let’s see if I like being with younger kids. Definitely, it’s one of the deciding factors so far. I like that I got hands-on experience.”

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Camacho, who is Hispanic and uses they/them pronouns, said they appreciate the diversity at Rolling Meadows High School and hopes the future crop of teachers is more reflective of the student population.

“I really like that I’m going to be able to teach kids, and they’re not going to see just one type of person,” Camacho said. “They’ll learn that anyone can do any job they want.”

Camacho also noted the surprising number of male students in the early childhood education electives.

“I like to see that — teaching is not just for women,” Camacho said.

So far, Camacho has taken three education pathway classes in a year and a half, starting with a course on how children’s brains are developed and influenced.

“I might change my mind as (the courses) go, but I like that I have a choice,” Camacho said. “It’s not like I came into the preschool lab and I’ve decided to do preschool my whole life. There are other classes I want to take and maybe my opinion will change. Maybe I’ll end up wanting to teach high school.”

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