BGSU operating in new, innovative ways to confront teacher shortage
BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – For years, mainly two types of school districts – large schools in urban areas and small schools in rural ones – have experienced staffing difficulties, running the gamut from low retention rates to struggling to fill highly specialized positions like world language or special education teachers.
Two years of the coronavirus pandemic, however, turned the problem into an outright crisis. Districts already experiencing issues saw the problem become more severe, and one would be hard-pressed to find any school district that has not experienced the issue at some level, whether it’s a lack of substitute teachers, paraprofessionals or candidates to hire in STEM-related fields.
While the issue itself is complex, the scope is not: The education field has never seen anything quite like this before. As one of Ohio’s largest producer of teachers, Bowling Green State University is uniquely positioned to address the issue, and the BGSU College of Education and Human Development (EDHD) is of the belief that a new problem requires some creativity.
“The teacher shortage we are facing right now is unprecedented,” said Dr. Dawn Shinew, Dean of EDHD. “We need to think in new and different ways about how we prepare future teachers.”
Because the issue is far-reaching, BGSU is approaching solutions from multiple angles, one of which is working directly with school districts.
As a long-time producer of quality teachers, BGSU maintains mutually beneficial partnerships with more than 80 school districts in northwestern Ohio, has established a pipeline with the second-biggest district in the state and even expanded its reach into the South.
In addition to regularly pairing teacher candidates with local districts – both for field placement and jobs after graduation – the University's involvement in Project IMPACT has paid off for both BGSU and a selection of major partner districts close to home.
Project IMPACT, a U.S. Department of Education grant program that aims to provide holistic support to students through interdisciplinary training programs, aims to recruit and develop teacher candidates, especially in key content areas, from under-represented populations and in local districts of all types.
Through the program, which goes into its fifth year in 2022-23, BGSU maintains partnerships with Toledo Public Schools, Springfield Local Schools, Toledo School for the Arts and Perrysburg Exempted School District, a pairing that works in multiple ways.
Dr. Tracy Huziak-Clark ’94 ’96, assistant dean for Educator Preparation and Partnerships and as well as the director of Project IMPACT, said the program increased local networking for BGSU and provided local districts with a pipeline of skilled candidates, particularly for positions that have become difficult to staff.
“I think that has been working very well because we’ve increased our number of teacher candidates in all those districts, both student teaching and being hired,” Huziak-Clark said. “It’s done great things on both ends: Meeting needs for our teacher candidates as well as working with the districts on needs they might have for professional development. It has been a true partnership.”
During the most recent semester, BGSU sent its first cohort of teacher candidates to South Carolina, one of the states with an especially pronounced need for skilled education graduates. The partnership paid off right away: Huziak-Clark said 100% of the teacher candidates who comprised the first cohort received job offers during or shortly after completing their student teaching.
But BGSU has also grown a key partnership in its home state with a connection to Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). Traditionally, BGSU has been a popular destination for education majors from northeastern Ohio.
The BGSU-CMSD partnership provides a benefit to all three parties: Students from the area can do their student teaching close to home, BGSU regularly provides CMSD with skilled candidates and having seen the University’s program intimately, CMSD is sending an increasing number of education majors to BGSU.
“BGSU gets many candidates here from the Cleveland area, so it’s been helpful for them to go back home, where it’s a little bit less expensive for them to live when they’re student teaching and can’t work as much, and that has been a nice pipeline for CMSD to hire candidates who want to return to the Cleveland area,” Huziak-Clark said. “That has been a really good partnership for us, and they’re now sending students who want to be teachers to us as they graduate as part of that networking cycle.”
While the standard route for educating teachers has worked for generations, shortages have demanded new ways of doing business.
One way BGSU is helping to expand Ohio’s pool of qualified teachers is to provide new methods of delivering instruction and reaching new types of teachers.
“While our traditional, undergraduate licensure programs will continue to be an effective pathway to prepare the majority of new teachers, this model does not work well for career changers or individuals who already have a baccalaureate degree and life experiences,” Shinew said.
In response, BGSU created an entirely new pathway into the teaching profession with the Alternative Resident Educator Program (AREP) – and structured the program so that participants can work toward a master's degree at the same time.
BGSU created Ohio’s first completely online, competency-based AREP, which allows teachers to complete their alternative licensure requirements on their own time, at their own pace and in their content area. The 15 credit hours also serve as the certificate/endorsement requirement for a Master of Education in Curriculum and Teaching.
“This is for those who have already earned a college degree and passed their content area exam, so I think this is a nice way to complement what teachers are doing in the field while building and expanding their pedagogical skills at the same time,” AREP program coordinator Dr. Angela Thomas said. “We’re the only one in the state that allows these AREP courses to be counted as electives in our Master’s of Curriculum and Teaching.”
Earlier this year, the Ohio Department of Education awarded BGSU faculty Dr. Brooks Vostal and Dr. Tim Murnen with a $320,000 grant through Project TRIAD: Teacher Renewal Initiative through Alternative Development, which will aid the expansion of AREP in the next two academic years.
In addition to establishing direct connection with BGSU faculty – who work with students on an individual basis – program participants also can work toward an advanced degree at the same time, which Thomas said is a popular way for newer teachers to hone their craft.
“I always suggest getting a master’s degree as early as one can, but to me, a master’s degree is so much more than advancement on a payscale — it’s a commitment to lifelong learning and becoming a better professional,” Thomas said. “Continuing on with that extra year or two with a master’s degree certainly hones your craft and helps you become a better professional.”
One of the core principles of the University’s teacher education programs is putting students into the field early in their college careers in various capacities.
BGSU has, on average, about 1,500 early placements every semester, which begin with visiting schools of all types, tutoring and small-group interactions, a method that has proven beneficial at every level.
Partner districts gain free services like tutoring from BGSU teacher candidates, while students gain invaluable real-world experiences and have the chance to reflect upon them along with education faculty.
“They get to baby step and figure it out through conversations here about what worked in that situation, what didn’t work and how to modify their instruction,” Huziak-Clark said. “When they get to that student teaching experience -- the pinnacle, capstone experience – they’ve had plenty of experiences in that reflective process to make quicker changes and feel more confidently.”
By preparing teacher candidates well before they are student teachers, partner districts receive numerous benefits, as cooperating mentor teachers often can work with students one-on-one more frequently with a teacher candidate delivering lessons during a placement.
Thanks to new legislation that allows student teachers to serve as substitutes – another major area of need for many districts – an immediate need for the school is fulfilled while providing teacher candidates with a paycheck. Teacher candidates at BGSU may substitute teach up to 10 times per semester.
“Being able to substitute teach for our candidates was huge for them financially, and it also helped our district partners,” Huziak-Clark said. “We didn’t want our teacher candidates to spend their whole placement doing substitute teaching, but we also wanted to be good partners for our districts, so we were able to come up with a plan that hopefully met both needs.”
Though the profession is challenging and the teacher shortage will not be solved quickly or easily, the University hopes to continue its work as an authority in teacher education.
“There’s no way to make sure anyone is totally ready for that first day of teaching – but we do our best, and we keep getting partner districts who want to hire BGSU grads for a reason,” Huaziak-Clark said. “Part of that reason is their ability to serve all students, and the faculty believe strongly in centering classes around those field experiences. They’re always reflecting on their actual practice, not just the theory.”
Updated: 07/14/2022 10:17AM