Hoping students become the teachers: Suburban districts' programs aim to build teacher pipeline

This story has been updated to correctly spell the name of Palatine High School student Ivan Monay.

As she worked on her class assignment, Jo Arroyo reviewed the material, took notes, laid out her plans and reviewed with her teacher.

Confident, but a little nervous, she knew she was ready. It was time for Arroyo, a Conant High School senior, to teach.

"It's nice to be on the other side," Arroyo said. "But it's a little nerve-wracking sometimes."

Arroyo is among hundreds of students in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211's career pathway program that gives high school students an inside look at being a teacher. She not only gets a chance to lead a class a few times a year, but a partnership between the district and Harper College also affords her the opportunity to earn dual credit with coursework that helps prepare her to pursue a degree in education.

"I'm not sure if the experience would be the same if they were just doing one or the other," said Angela Drenth, who heads District 211's family and consumer sciences department, adding that exposure to courses and hands-on classroom experience are both invaluable. "The whole thing together is what really makes it a great opportunity and such a great experience for students. ... It's like a mini student-teaching experience."

Educator pathway programs, also known as "grow your own" programs, like the one in District 211 are becoming more common as school districts across the nation grapple with a teacher shortage. As of October, the Illinois State Board of Education reported more than 3,500 unfilled teaching positions statewide.

Education leaders across the suburbs hope programs will light a spark of interest in high school students to become teachers.

Recent "future teacher" days at Northern Illinois University have attracted hundreds of students, said Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the university's College of Education.

"We're hoping that a lot of those young people that we've seen in the last couple of years will continue when they're ready to enroll and pursue these kinds of programs," Elish-Piper said.

She said the College of Education has seen its enrollment increase in recent years. While traditional enrollment from high school graduates contributes to that increase, she noted some of it is adults making career changes.

"The knowledge of the educator shortage is encouraging people who were on the fence. ... They understand that there will be job opportunities," she said, noting many of NIU's teacher candidates are offered a job while they are still student-teaching.

Elish-Piper added that the high school educator pathway programs could also help address the shortage of teacher assistants.

In Indian Prairie School District 204, the district's two-year-old program starts at the elementary level by including teaching in lessons about various careers. At the middle school level, about 100 students in seven District 204 schools participate in an after-school club dubbed Teachers of Tomorrow.

At the high school level, 150 students are participating this year in the district's educator pathway program that, like District 211, exposes students to student teaching, early education courses and the potential to earn dual credits through area community colleges.

In District 204, first-year program students go to an elementary, middle and high school to observe a teacher. They also get a fourth observation of their choice. The observations include everything from shadowing a teacher to small teaching opportunities, said Louis Lee, District 204's assistant superintendent for human relations.

Second-year program students are paired with a teacher mentor. Program coordinators are developing plans for next year, when they could potentially have third-year students in the program, Lee said.

"We're introducing students to tangible activities that they normally aren't going to get until their second or third year in a four-year university," Lee said.

District 204, like others, stays in contact with graduates from the education pathways program. With only one class of graduates, District 204 knows of at least 30 of them who are pursuing education degrees.

"We'd love for these students to come back and teach for us," Lee said. "But if they don't come back and teach for us, we know we're still positively impacting the teacher pipeline."

District 211, which has had some form of an education pathways program in place for at least 20 years, has many program graduates who have returned to their alma maters as teachers.

"I always knew I wanted to be a teacher," said Lauren Pieper, a 2008 Conant graduate who went through a pathways program and is now in her 11th year of teaching chemistry, the last eight at Conant. "What was so special about the program was that I got to experience (what it was like to be a teacher) and see that it was something that I wanted to do. I was really confident going into college, knowing that I was picking a job that I really enjoy doing."

Palatine High School senior Ivan Monay said the hands-on experience - such as seeing preschoolers' faces light up - has helped solidify his desire to teach.

"It's pretty cool to see that little smile after they learned something," said Monay, who has taught in a preschool class through the program. "That's what makes me want to be a teacher."

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  Conant High School senior Jo Arroyo admits teaching other students in her school can be a bit nerve-wracking, but she works with a mentor to come up with her lesson plan, reviews materials and comes to class prepared. John Starks/
  Conant High School senior Jo Arroyo had initially planned to pursue a career in design but has switched to education after participating in District 211's education pathways program. She says she still can use her design skills in creating work sheets or other items for her future classroom. John Starks/
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