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Midland University students attend last year's "boot camp" on substitute teaching, as part of an initiative with Midland University that lets students get experience subbing in classrooms. 

Educational Service Unit 2 (ESU 2) and Midland University are teaming up to help address a substitute teacher shortage in area schools — and give aspiring teachers a dose of life in the classroom.

The program is available to a consortium of 11 northeast Nebraska school districts — Tekamah-Herman, North Bend Central, West Point-Beemer, Scribner-Snyder, Fremont Public Schools, Cedar Bluffs, Wahoo, Yutan, Mead, Logan View and Oakland-Craig. It provides students in Midland University’s education program opportunities to get paid for covering classes at any of the districts involved when a substitute may not be available.

“We tried to make this as painless for the college student as possible, provide a source of revenue for them and provide an opportunity for our schools to find substitute teachers,” said Ted DeTurk, the administrator for ESU 2. “Our goal all along has been just a ‘win-win.’”

The program is still in its infancy. It started in February with its consortium of 11 districts. Of those, seven have requested a sub through the program. There are 15 hand-picked Midland student participants, according to numbers provided by ESU 2.

Midland University and ESU 2 had spoken about a partnership that could get Midland students experience in substitute teaching, according to Sue Evanich, the dean of Midland’s School of Education. But it was a shortage of substitute teachers — both across the state and locally — that prompted them to act.

“We actually heard complaints from our school districts, just the lack of subs and how that impacted their ability to send teachers to professional development or even when a teacher was sick, etcetera, how that impacted student achievement in the classroom,” DeTurk said.

Since the program started, in ESU 2, there have been 65 sub requests made to the program between Feb. 8 and March 28 — those are requests that districts were unable to fill with their own resources.

Of the 65 requests, the program has been able to fill 25. That means that there’s still a sub shortage, DeTurk noted, but he hopes this year is just the beginning.

“We’re a little less than half, but you have to keep in mind, that would have been 25 positions not filled at all,” DeTurk said. “I think we’re starting to meet the need.”

The concept is not without precedent — Wayne State College has long offered a similar program, which now involves three different ESUs and 18 school districts, called the Northeast Nebraska Teacher Academy (NENTA). That program is expected to fill about 500 substitute teacher openings by the end of this year and usually fills around 250 to 300 per semester, according to Nick Shudak, dean of the School of Education and Counseling at Wayne State.

“I think what Dr. DeTurk has endeavored to do is to continue thinking of ways to build partnerships across the ESU, P-12, and (higher education) levels so as to better serve students in schools while giving college students more opportunities to ‘learn and earn,’ as we say in NENTA,” Shudak said. “The NENTA program at WSC is going on 20 years old and was originated through the work of Dr. Dan Hoesing (Schuyler). These consortia are excellent examples of how educational leaders can help to integrate the systems of education in our state.”

The ESU 2-Midland consortium was inspired by Wayne State’s initiative, DeTurk said. As Midland and ESU 2 began their talks, DeTurk worked with Wayne State to learn more about the concept.

However, the ESU 2-Midland program differs somewhat from Wayne State’s program. While Wayne State offers, a weekly, one-hour seminar in addition to working in the schools, Midland hosted a three-day “boot camp” to prep students for the experience — there are no regular meetings or classes. Students are informed of subbing opportunities and take them based on their availability.

“Probably the easiest way for me to describe (the consortium) is, it’s more like a part-time job,” DeTurk said. “(Students’) focus is, I think, really twofold. They want to build their resume and they want to make a little money.”

ESU 2 pays students $100 for a whole day of subbing and $50 for a half day, and once they’ve completed two sessions, the ESU will reimburse the students for the cost of their local substitute teacher certificate.

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The experience has significant educational value to teachers in training, Evanich said. That’s because other opportunities for field-based experience, like student teaching, place the student in the classroom with an experienced teacher. Only subbing puts the student in charge of a classroom on their own, juggling responsibilities that vary from supervising to teaching.

“The primary benefit is the student gets to experience what it’s like to be responsible for that classroom,” Evanich said. “In this situation, the student has to make those decisions. And that’s what real teaching is: having to make literally hundreds of decisions in a school day.”

She hopes that the program also will allow budding teachers to make early connections with districts that they may be interested in working at one day. It’s too early to tell if that will come to fruition, Evanich said, but for Braska Patterson, a Midland junior who regularly subs through the program, that’s been an exciting prospect.

“Just the experience has opened my eyes to the setup of the classroom,” Patterson said. “I think it’s very beneficial. It gets students their foot in the door, especially when they’re trying to find a job after college.”

Currently, the program is organized through ESU 2. Brook Zakovec, an administrative assistant, coordinates sub openings between the districts and the students. A school district notifies her when she has an opening and she sends out a text to the pool of 15 students to see who’s available.

In addressing the sub shortage in ESU 2 schools, the biggest limitation of the program is student availability. Of the 15 who are involved, only five are consistently available to fill openings, Zakovec said.

“About 85 percent of the students at Midland are involved either in a sport or the performing arts,” Evanich said. “We knew that that was going to be a difficult thing for our students to schedule, but we said, you know what, even if you only get to do it once or twice, it would be a good experience for you and it would help the district also.”

Additionally, students in the program are not permitted to miss class in order to sub. But the students are also able to complete half days, instead of full days of subbing, Evanich said, in order to better accommodate their schedules.

To fully accommodate the sub shortage in ESU 2’s districts, DeTurk estimates they would need 30 students who were consistently available. He’s grateful for the help that they’ve received, and is hopeful that the program will continue to grow. Next year, he anticipates another 15 students joining the program, while five will be leaving the program to start student teaching.

But to continue growing the program’s numbers, there needs to be a better system of organization, DeTurk said.

“We’ve got to simplify this thing,” DeTurk said. “Our goal is to get to a point where we have a ‘sub finder’ and it’s all done electronically by our districts, but we’re just not there yet.”

The assembly of the consortium may spawn additional opportunities for school districts to address their sub shortages, DeTurk added.

Normally, potential substitute teachers must receive a local substitute teacher certificate from the school district where they hope to teach. Each of those certificates has a fee and allows the sub to work for a certain number of days within that district.

However, substitute teachers interested in working within the consortium — even those who are not Midland students — could apply for a certificate for the whole consortium: one certificate that’s good for all 11 districts, DeTurk said.

“We’re willing to to talk to anybody. If they’re willing to be a substitute teacher in our consortium, we’ll be happy to work something out,” DeTurk said.


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