The University of Central Florida’s undergrad program to train special-education teachers was suspended when its coordinator retired

The University of Central Florida’s undergrad program to train special-education teachers was suspended when its coordinator retired

The University of Central Florida’s undergrad program to train special-education teachers was suspended when its coordinator retired

“I agreed to bring it back only if it could be something different and make an immediate impact for our local schools,” the associate professor says.

In addition to that classroom time, student-subs participate in coaching conversations with university faculty

To stay attuned to the needs of those schools, Hines tries to build and maintain strong relationships with local school leaders. A district leader recently told Hines that one of her biggest problems lately is finding substitute teachers. It’s a challenge for schools across the country that the pandemic has intensified. District and state leaders have come up with temporary solutions like calling on parents and members of the National Guard to volunteer, or moving classes online.

So Hines thought up a solution. What if her college students got some of their required classroom experience by working as paid substitute teachers?

For school districts, the benefit of such an arrangement would be “getting a really motivated, educated, substitute teacher,” Hines says. For students, one benefit would be the pay.

“It breaks my heart when I have students who are trying to get in their field work, but they are working at Disney or waiting tables,” Hines says. “This lets them focus their efforts on education.”

“This problem of attrition in our field, I firmly believe it’s in part because people don’t understand the job before they get out there,” Hines says. “As someone who worked as a substitute teacher before I was a teacher, I learned more subbing than doing anything else, ever, to prepare for teaching. I saw a variety of classrooms, a variety of age groups, and I could make a really informed decision about what I wanted to do career-wise as a teacher.”

So this semester, Hines’ students have the option of filling a practicum course requirement by subbing in local schools for 15 days.

Although the effort is brand-new, so far it seems to be working, Hines says. It builds on other innovations she has helped to put in place at the university, such as arrangements that allow for college students to complete some coursework while working as paid paraprofessionals in schools.

Hines says she initially encountered resistance to the idea of helping students get paid while doing field work. But through research and conversations with leaders at schools and the university, she discovered that a prohibition on paying teacher-candidates was more a tradition than a rock-solid rule, and one that it could be changed.

The special-education program has grown from about 10 enrolled students when it restarted to about 100 students now. Hines credits that growth to being “nimble and flexible.”

“Sometimes in higher ed, it is hard for people to rethink things that have been in place since the conception of their program,” Hines says. “It’s time to go back and look critically at some of those policies and practices.”

Trying Virtual Simulation

When Herring of Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity was a dean of education at Hampton University, one way she nudged students to consider careers in teaching was inviting them to try out a mixed-reality simulation of leading a classroom. The experience often surprised students, Herring says, giving them insight into how the teaching they might do in the future could be more creative than, more technologically driven than, or simply different from the instruction they experienced growing up in schools.

During the pandemic, she has seen increased openness at college teacher-prep programs to using technology such as mixed-reality simulation as a way to train students. Some of that new interest came initially from a place of desperation, Herring acknowledges, among faculty who couldn’t figure out how to place teacher candidates in physical classrooms due to health crisis challenges.

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