Teacher shortage alleviated by ‘grow-your-own’ approach

Pa-Pa. Ma-pa. Ra-na. (Papa. Map. Fog.)

Kindergarten in Kimberly Cook’s class, like kindergartners throughout the metro-east, are clapping and speaking along with the syllables in short words to help learn phonics.

Ga-to. (Cat.)

Unlike the others, they’re being led in Spanish.

Kreitner Elementary School in Collinsville District 10 is bilingual from the front door through to the carpet on that kindergarten floor, and is facing one of the teacher shortage areas that the U.S. Department of Education warns about. More than 75 percent of its students are Hispanic, with 47 percent of those students needing bilingual education; the other shortage area is Learning Behavior Specialist 1. Neither is a new shortage area, both have appeared regularly on the list compiled by the U.S. Department of Education annually since 1990.

Bilingual certification requires a master’s degree, but Principal Todd Pettit says the school is “fortunate,” because its teachers who start with regular certification are willing to continue their own educations. The district sees doing so as part of a “grow-your-own” approach.

Second-year teacher John Parciak, a first-grade teacher, just started working toward that endorsement already reached by Cook, who has taught for the school 10 years but as a bilingual teacher for eight.

“About half my class, their first language is Spanish, and I thought I could better communicate with them,” he said.

Parciak took Spanish in high school for four years, and double-majored in Spanish and education. Because of the state requirements, that’s not enough.

The English Language Learners Director at the district says the state of Illinois requires a TESOL certification — Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages — which is part of a master’s degree.

“You can grow up speaking Spanish,” said director Carla Cruise, “but not read and write it. ... and there’s a difference between social and academic language.”

Over at Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative, Director Jeff Daugherty says they aren’t feeling the crunch in filling the Learning Behavior Specialist positions.

“Nationwide, and statewide, it’s a difficult position to fill,” he said. “Some of it’s geographical, we’re pretty lucky to be in a metro area...that’s not the same everywhere. You drive an hour north or an hour east, and it would be a very different situation.”

The St. Clair County Regional Office of Education also keeps an eye on teacher vacancies.

“The thing about bilingual education is that there are pockets across the state where bilingual education is in a greater demand than in other parts,” said Superintendent Susan Sarfaty of the Regional Office of Education. “That’s different than LBS1...special education is another issue, that’s statewide.”

Daugherty said about half of the 34 LBS1 teachers at BASSC schools took the traditional path of graduating high school and going straight into a special education bachelor’s degree for certification.

But his teachers also take two other routes: teachers certified in regular education go back to school for an additional certification or a master’s degree.

“There’s usually something that’s occurred in their life that’s caused them to want to help students with challenges,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for folks to start working with a district as a paraprofessional in a special education classroom and spend a year or two doing that, and go back to school and obtain their license. Some of our very best teachers at BASSC took that path ... it’s really priceless training for us.

“It’s a little different of a ‘grow-your-own’ philosophy, but it works for us.”

Contact reporter Mary Cooley at or 618-239-2535. Follow her on Twitter: @MaryCooleyBND.

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