CHAMPAIGN – A small group of University of Illinois students met with Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton on Monday about the state’s K-12 teacher shortage.
Stratton spoke about the administration’s efforts to diversify the profession.
“Some of the students that I’ve met on these campuses have said they have never had a teacher of color, or maybe they only had one, and that one teacher was the one that inspired them to go into education,” Stratton said.
Stratton pointed to research that shows the Black students are more likely to graduate high school and go to college when they have a Black teacher. She said that teachers of color improve outcomes for students of all racial backgrounds.
The governor’s office has proposed more than doubling state contributions to the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship, from $1.9 million in this fiscal year to $4.2 million in the next.
The MTI scholarship supports minority students who commit to teaching in districts with large percentages of non-white students.
Students see an expensive pathway to a low-paying career
Half a dozen students filed out of a classroom in Champaign after their meeting with Stratton.
For the three able to wait for the end of Stratton’s interview, teacher pay topped their concerns.
“Student teaching, it’s kind of like other majors’ equivalent to an internship, except that in some internships, you might get paid. You don’t get paid while student teaching; you pay a college to do it,” said junior Jade Merritt.
Merritt says Illinois should encourage more students to become teachers by covering their college tuition and housing.
Merritt and her two peers hadn’t heard of the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship before their meeting with Stratton.
“If that is something that the state really [considers] a crown jewel, we’re not hearing a whole lot about it,” Merritt said.
Merritt added that high schools should promote the scholarship.
Junior Anna Ashton said that she learned from a young age that teaching was not a sustainable career.
“You hear these messages as soon as middle school, sometimes even elementary school, and throughout high school – ‘Don’t become a teacher, because you won’t be paid well,’” Ashton said.
Master’s student Rashaad Young said that pay is among his top priorities as he considers which districts to join.
“I will have 1,000 hours of teaching in a classroom before getting into the classroom [as a certified teacher]. If I already have this experience, I won’t settle for $35,000 or $40,000. I have too much experience to settle for that,” Young said.
Almost 90 percent of Illinois superintendents surveyed believe their district has a teacher shortage, according to a recent study by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.
Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.