Western Technical College Foundations of Teacher Education program chair Shelly Bauer is very excited for the start of the upcoming college year. As the program chair, she watches students grow to become teachers and support staff throughout the area. But a growing teacher and paraprofessional shortage remains on her mind.
“We (as a society) need to be really concerned about this,” she said. “School districts have so many openings here this fall, and they just aren’t going to fill them all.”
While the teacher shortage remains a well-known phenomenon nationally, paraprofessionals, including teaching assistants, are in short supply as well. Many of these positions work with some of the most vulnerable students in each school district. That shortage is why Bauer and her team at Western have been looking at several unique ways to grow the pipeline of potential students into her program and beyond.
Adjusting the schedule for her program was the first move. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the program online in 2020. After seeing positive results, the program remains mostly online, with a few in person events each term. The move helps students from all ages and backgrounds the ability to attend class. In addition, the class time itself was moved to the late afternoon, to better attract individuals already working in school districts.
The next move was to establish relationships with outside school districts, including the Holmen School District. Nick Bakke is the assistant principal at Holmen High School. After communicating with Bauer via email, the two began a partnership that helps bring students from Holmen High School to Western’s Foundations of Teacher Education program. Students work in Holmen School District while obtaining their associate degree.
“They give them to us for a little bit, and we give them back as teachers and paraprofessionals,” Bauer added.
Once they graduate, the students likely have a position in the district. Bakke adds that the time shift to late afternoons made all the difference.
“If Western didn’t make those accommodations, this partnership would not work,” said Bakke. “It’s been a great partnership.”
Perhaps the biggest adjustment to the program came in 2018, when Western and Viterbo signed a transfer agreement, allowing graduates of the program to enter in junior standing to Viterbo’s Elementary Education degree, essentially guaranteeing a student will graduate in four years.
“The Viterbo articulation agreement really changed the nature of our program,” said Bauer. “So far, 27 students who started at Western are now teaching in the field since the agreement was reached.”
In all, these small but important changes helped grow the program, putting more teachers and paraprofessionals in the area.
“This work is so important,” said Bauer. “These support professionals provide the support that makes education accessible for all students.”
Western’s Fall Term begins Tuesday, Sept. 6. To learn more about Western’s Foundations of Teacher Education program, visit www.westerntc.edu/foundations-teacher-education.