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Glenda Harms, an instructional coach for the Fort Dodge Community School District, leads a session of mentor and mentee teachers at the district office. The district is using several different techniques to help support new teachers in the midst of a statewide teacher shortage.

It’s a statewide issue that the Fort Dodge Community School District is not immune to: teacher shortages across the board.

Like many other schools, Fort Dodge went into the year with a substantial number of positions unfilled. And like many other districts, it’s had to make adjustments and be creative to lessen the impact of those unfilled positions.

Currently, Fort Dodge has 24 teaching positions listed as open on its website. That includes six high school positions, eight elementary positions and 10 at the middle school. That total doesn’t include other positions that are currently unfilled, like paraeducators and coaching jobs.

The total number of positions open sits at 61 for the district when all openings are taken into account.

That number reflects a statewide issue. On the Iowa Department of Education’s site, TeachIowa, which allows schools to post openings, there are 1,283 unfilled teaching positions alone statewide. There are also 879 openings in special education.

For all jobs unfilled in the state of Iowa, that number jumps to 4,842.

“Students aren’t going into the profession so that pipeline isn’t what it used to be in the past,” said Denise Schares, who is serving as the Fort Dodge district’s interim superintendent this year. “I can remember in my career, we would have 300 applications for an elementary position to sort through.”

Kim Whitmore, the district’s human resources director, said all the open positions have led the district to be creative to make sure students aren’t affected. That includes moving the district instructional coaches back into the classroom.

But, she said, that then leads to the question of how to offer support to teachers, especially those new to the district or the profession.

“The biggest question was how do we fill those positions and do it in a way that we know the needs of the students are being met,” said Whitmore. “But then that takes away from the other side and how do we support our teachers? We had to approach coaching our teachers in a different way.”

Both Whitmore and Schares said there are two major issues facing districts across the state. One is attracting new teachers to the district. The other is keeping teachers beyond their first or second year.

“We’re trying to reach out to (colleges) and get students interested in our district early,” Whitmore said. “I’ve found that if we wait until graduation a lot of them are already placed. So we’re starting early to get our information out to schools so we can draw that interest.”

The district is also working to expand support for new teachers, hoping they have a good experience and decide to stay.

“We have a really robust induction and mentoring program,” added Whitmore. “We are working to make sure the new teachers have a chance to socialize with other teachers and get to know the community better.”

One program that was started is the Mentor and Mingle program where new teachers and their mentors get a chance to gather outside of the school day. The first event was held in September at Fort Frenzy.

The district has also created a Recruiting, Hiring, and Retention District Task Force. The goal of that group is to help recruit new teachers to the district, but to also support current teachers and make sure they are comfortable staying with the district.

“The idea behind that is how can we attract people to Fort Dodge to teach and then how can we maintain that continuity within our schools,” said Whitmore.

The Iowa Department of Education is also lending a hand. The state started a program called RAPIL, which stands for Regents Alternative Pathway to Iowa Licensure.

According to its website, RAPIL is a collaborative effort between the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa to provide quality teacher preparation for eligible adult learners.

Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of three years post-baccalaureate work experience to qualify for admission.

RAPIL’s two-year, state-approved program helps candidates develop pedagogy through education coursework, field experiences, and a year-long internship.

Designed with the working professional in mind, RAPIL is offered in a collaborative, technology-based format with evening courses and a few Saturday face-to-face classes.

The unique internship allows the RAPIL candidate to work as a salaried teacher in a secondary Iowa classroom, with school-based mentorship, during the second year of the program.

Upon successful completion of the internship, program requirements, and licensing exams, RAPIL candidates are recommended for an Initial Iowa Teaching License.

“I think the state is recognizing the need and being creative,” said Schares. “You’re not only recruiting young people out of college, but there are people in your community who may want to go back to school that we can support and help them get the training to move into a teaching position.”

Another area the district is struggling with is its pool of substitute teachers. Several former subs chose not to return to the district after COVID.

Whitmore said the state, again, is working to help schools attract more substitute teachers. The AEA has simplified the steps to earn substitute teaching authorization.

A substitute authorization may be issued by the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners to an individual who:

• Is at least 21-years-old.

• Has successfully completed the Substitute Authorization Course.

• Has at least one of the following:

1. Holds an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree or 60 semester hours of credit from a regionally-accredited institution.

2. Holds a Paraeducator Certificate issued by the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners.

3. Holds an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree or 60 semester hours issued outside the United States (credential evaluation must be established.)

• Has successfully completed the application process including the background check.

“The process is so much more streamlined than when I started my role here,” said Whitmore. “A lot of people don’t know how to get a sub authorization and how it’s changed.”

The AEA also offers a self-paced sub authorization course that is required for anyone to be a sub. The cost is just $100.

Whitmore said the district is also considering offering the Substitute Authorization course in person in January. She said the district is also considering an increase in daily sub pay.

All open positions in the schools can be found on the district website.

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