Young Educators Rising!

If anyone doubts that the Educators Rising program encourages high school students to consider teaching as a career, all they need to do is sit with Jack Bangert in a hallway of the Milo Bail Student Center at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

At UNO one Wednesday morning in November, Bangert spoke with 10 UNO students – each one a former member of the Omaha South High School chapter of Educators Rising that he advises. On that morning, all were headed to UNO classes that will take them one step closer to a teaching certificate.

“That was just 10 students while I was sitting outside the conference hall,” said Bangert. “I think five years from now we will really reap the rewards of this program.”

If those 10 teachers-to-be and other recent benchmarks for the Educators Rising program in Nebraska are an indication, the riches from Educators Rising activities are indeed on the way. Fueled by a shortage of candidates from Nebraska teacher education programs, and boosted by a generous grant to NSEA from the National Education Association (NEA) Great Public Schools Fund, Educators Rising may now be serving more high schools students in the state than ever before.

Consider that:

  • Bangert was at UNO for the Educators Rising Nebraska annual Showcase of Teaching, a fall conference at which about 300 high school students and advisors were expected. Instead, 400 registered. The 2016 version of the conference had 280 attendees.
  • The number of high schools represented at the Showcase reached 19 this year. Last year there were about 15 active Educators Rising chapters statewide. Today, at least 30 high schools have chapters that are active or that are taking steps to becoming organized.
  • Advisor Louis Harrison reports more than 20 members at his Bellevue West High School chapter, more than double from last year. Omaha Bryan High’s Jana Georgius said 34 members belong to her chapter, compared to 26 last year.

And seven students from the brand-new Scottsbluff High School chapter, led by advisor Jamie Batterman, made the trip to Omaha. Batterman foresees tremendous growth in her chapter.

“With our career academy programming and opportunities for great experiences, in addition to Educators Rising, I feel our numbers will grow quite a bit,” she said. “The students are really selling the program.”

The Omaha South chapter began with 13 students eight years ago. Today it has more than 90.

“Teaching has become cool and a realistic and noble profession at South High School,” he said.

Teacher Shortage

Some of the growth in Educators Rising may be attributed to the realization within Nebraska’s education family that the state faces a teacher shortage, that the flow of new teachers from the state’s colleges and universities has slowed.

In 2003-04, there were more than 7,500 teacher education candidates in Nebraska’s colleges of education. By 2013-14, that number had dwindled to 3,500, according to the Nebraska Department of Education. That dearth of candidates for employment may have made administrators more accepting of “grow your own teachers” programming like Educators Rising.

Administrators are “most definitely” interested in Educators Rising and similar programs, said Carol Ringenberg Packard, Health Sciences/Education and Training Career Field specialist for the Nebraska Department of Education.

“They are the ones who are looking for and hiring these teacher candidates,” she said.

The rapid growth in chapters and membership can also be attributed to work by NSEA to encourage creation of new chapters. Using a generous NEA Great Public Schools Fund grant, NSEA has provided “seed” funding to nearly every Nebraska chapter.

Building on a $109,000 grant in 2016-17, the two-year, $335,120 grant from the NEA Great Public Schools Fund is to be used primarily to recruit minority students to a teaching career pathway. Ethnic minorities make up more than 30 percent of Nebraska K-12 students, yet only 4 percent of teachers are of minority descent.

“We need more teachers of color who can serve as role models for students,” said NSEA Executive Director Maddie Fennell.

Harrison, at Bellevue West, agrees.

“As a minority teacher, I feel the best way to attract minority students to the profession is for them to see someone who looks like them be successful and passionate about teaching,” he said.

“I like to think that I do that on a daily basis. And as the face of Ed Rising at my school, it lets our students see that race and ethnicity isn’t a barrier to a teaching career,” he said.

The grant allows NSEA staff to work with local association members to develop and grow new Educators Rising chapters at high schools across the state, as well as to bolster existing Ed Rising chapters.

Grant monies are also used to assist post-secondary students in their efforts to pass the Praxis Core test required to enter Nebraska colleges of education.

That aspect of the grant application stemmed in part from a focus group discussion with ethnic and minority NSEA members in 2015. NSEA staff and leaders learned that a significant stumbling block for ethnic and minority students seeking to become teachers is the lack of adequate preparation and tutoring for the Praxis Core test.

The plan calls for building a statewide cadre of tutors for the Praxis Core test; to further develop the prep and tutoring programs; to recruit students to the program; to secure needed materials and facilities for the activity; and to provide a stipend to tutors. The long-term goal is to maintain the program with assistance from Nebraska’s 16 colleges of education and to develop an online tutorial and follow-up Webinars.

Funding Help

While minorities and high-minority population high schools have been targeted for Educator Rising chapters by NSEA, the program is open to all students with an interest in teaching. The funding provided to local chapters by NSEA has made a difference.

Bangert said the grant has helped cover the cost of registration for state conferences, and has “created a vibe in our school.

“Our students come back from conferences and field trips and they are incredibly positive about the experiences they have had. They talk with their friends about the class and the experiences,” he said.

Those opportunities, he said, have changed the paradigm that surrounds the education profession at South High.

Georgius said grant funding allowed Omaha Bryan to double from 12 to 23 the number of students who attended the November Educators Rising conference this year. Grant dollars have eased the fundraising pressures, as well, she said.

Batterman’s students from Scottsbluff “loved the experience” of the trip to Omaha.

“They brought back ideas for lesson planning to use while collaborating with their cooperating educators during their job shadow experiences; tips for motivating students; and ideas for their competitive events projects,” said Batterman.

Harrison’s Bellevue West students have now been able to participate in Educators Rising at no cost (the $10 membership fee can be a deterrent), spurring chapter growth.

An important factor in growing the program and, ultimately, the profession, sits at the head of every classroom.

“It is vitally important for teachers/educators to encourage young people to consider a career in education and join Ed Rising,” said Harrison.

“Teachers are in the best position to encourage the best and the brightest young people to pursue a career in education.”

If you are interested in starting an Educators Rising program in your school, or are interested in tutoring college-level students in preparation for PRAXIS testing, contact your NSEA organizational specialist at 1-800-742-0047.