Students at Monmouth College are getting their feet wet in the world of substitute teaching.

The college’s educational studies department has already been helping prepare its graduates to work in rural school districts, where there has been a shortage of teachers.

Now, the department is answering another call for help: a shortage of substitute teachers in area school districts because of the pandemic.

“Recently, the State of Illinois created opportunities for individuals to become short-term substitute teachers due to the emergency situation because of COVID-19, and the general teacher shortage,” said Tom Sargent, educational studies professor at the college.

Tom Sargent, educational studies professor at Monmouth College, says allowing students to work as short-term substitute teachers to help fill the current shortage caused by the pandemic is a “novel concept.” (Photo courtesy of Monmouth College)

Many Monmouth College undergraduates already work as student teachers in most area schools, gaining valuable, real-world classroom experience.

Sargent and his department colleagues determined the situation was dire enough to also have qualified students become short-term subs.

“It became evident that this is a great need in the state and in our area,” said Sargent. “Some schools are having to combine classes to get by. Some subs are coming in that have no idea of how to run a classroom, and that duty is falling to the student teachers who are there. So we thought, ‘Why aren’t we helping the area schools out?'”

Students were told about the opportunity Tuesday, Oct. 19, at Monmouth College’s Mentoring Day.

“We had 30 spaces we could fill, and we now have 28 kids signed up,” said Sargent back in November. “Wednesday, Nov. 10, was the first day they could teach in the schools.”

He adds that the plan is for Monmouth students to fill in when they can, with the realization that a single student would be unlikely to teach multiple full days in a row.

“Our students have their own classes to take, so they can’t do this all day, every day,” said Sargent. “But they can cover partial days, or they can work certain full days. Working part of a day is ideal for them, although some of their students have Fridays that are completely open, which is a high-need day in many school districts.”

The opportunity is open to teacher licensure candidates who have at least 45 semester hours of experience.

“This is a novel concept,” said Sargent. “No other teacher education program in the state is doing this.”

Illinois officials like Assistant Regional Superintendent Lori Loving are glad Monmouth College stepped up and helped.

“Monmouth College helped make a dent in the shortage of substitute teachers in our region, and we thank them,” said Loving.