May 29, 2019

SIU is spearheading project to propel high school students into teaching careers

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale is part of a collaborative receiving grant funding to address the growing teacher shortage crisis in Illinois.

The Scaling Education Pathways in Illinois (SEPI) program is providing funding to eight communities to implement an initiative that streamlines the career paths for prospective teachers. The program provides teaching career preparation in high schools, which can be extended to the post-secondary level, in order to enable a diverse group of students to more readily become the educators of tomorrow.

High school students who participate in the program get a jump-start toward a career and are eligible for special micro-credentials on their high school diplomas.

Teacher shortages in several fields

The state especially has difficulty finding enough qualified teachers for the special education, English Language Learners (ELL) and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Classrooms in rural and urban school districts are the most short-staffed.

There is also a need to add more classroom diversity since 85 percent of the state’s teacher workforce is white, although research shows that students of color benefit from having teachers of color.

Initiative is statewide

The Illinois P20 Council, the Joyce Foundation and the Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University partnered to launch SEPI within eight collaborations in an effort to address the state’s teacher shortage.

 The Southern Illinois Network for Future Teachers involves SIU Carbondale and its College of Education and Human Services/Teacher Education Program (TEP), John A. Logan College, Shawnee Community College and six area high schools, as well as the Association of Illinois Rural Small Schools (AIRSS) and Illinois Education Association. The Regional Office of Education 30, which provides services to school districts in five counties, including Jackson and Perry counties, is also involved.

The Southern Illinois Network for Future Teachers project received $14,000 in funding.

Partner high schools include:

  • Carbondale Community High School District 165.
  • Carterville High School.
  • Cobden High School.
  • Du Quoin High School.
  • Johnston City High School.
  • Vienna High School.

“We want to inspire high school students to consider the teaching profession,” Nancy Mundschenk, director of SIU’s Teacher Education Program (TEP), said. “This project is a new way to strengthen our existing partner relationships and create a clear pathway for students from high school to the teacher education program and into careers as teachers.”

How it works

The project provides participating high school students with a career jump-start in several ways.  While students are still in high school they can take two of SIU’s required teacher education program core curriculum classes through the partner community colleges and earn dual high school/college credits. Students will also receive College and Career Pathway Endorsements  with their high school diplomas.

Mundschenk said the community colleges are a vital component since more than half of SIU’s TEP students come via community colleges.

Another component of the project is creation of a vibrant, active future teacher clubs in each of the participating high schools. Mundschenk noted that although many schools have had such organizations in the past, they were not part of a network that helped students transition to teaching careers.

New extracurricular clubs forming

The Educators Rising extracurricular clubs will be very active and incorporate many activities and collaborative efforts. They will be structured and filled with hands-on activities generated to match the interests of participating students. The high school students will also be able to visit the SIU and community college campuses, get involved in tutoring within their communities, meet with current student teachers and learn about their experiences, and participate in collaborative activities with other Educators Rising groups. In addition, students will participate in job-shadowing, conferences and competitions.

Student interests will serve as the driving factor for the club activities.

“We’re really focused on active engagement of the students in these clubs,” Mundschenk said.

She also noted that the clubs will provide great opportunities for students to develop self-confidence, leadership skills and hone their critical-thinking skills.

Students will receive a comprehensive, mentored experience

People involved with the program will work with the student participants to assist them in several ways, according to Mundschenk, to give them “a cohesive, total preparation experience.”

“We will help create individual plans to take them from high school through college and into their own classrooms. We will assist them in applying for scholarships, not just the general ones, but also those specifically for teachers,” she said. “We will give them career exploration and counseling assistance, and help them set goals and work through whatever they need to take care of to reach their goals. We will mentor them and help them make those valuable professional connections right from the get-go.”

As part of their experience, students will spend 60 hours observing and assisting teachers in classrooms, take part in parent and community engagement activities, tutor students and engage in other projects that enable them to explore careers in teaching.

Educators Rising Club launched at Carbondale Community High School

SIU and Carbondale Community High School launched the first Educators Rising club during the 2018-19 school year and it very successful, Mundschenk said. Under the direction of Rasheeda Love, the CCHS faculty sponsor, the participants visited the Unity Point and De Soto school districts where they observed teachers and shadowed them during their days in the classroom. The teens had a special display during the “Closing the Gap” teaching conference in April and distributed buttons bearing the words “I change lives, I teach.” They also made a presentation to the Carbondale High School board highlighting their activities during the year.

Creating a network

“We have young people who want to make a difference and we want to help them do that. We want to start inspiring and recruiting teachers the way we do athletes,” Mundschenk said. “This project will create a Southern Illinois network of future teachers.”

Across the state, about 450 students are expected to participate in the program during its inaugural year.

“Our TEP tagline is ‘Changes Lives…Teach” and we are happy to provide the structure and framework for this exciting program that will create pathways for high school students to become licensed educators and teachers who will change lives,” she added.

More information is available

The regional office is the fiscal agent and coordinator for the SEPI program. For more information about the program, or details on how to get involved, contact SIU’s TEP program by email at or by calling 618/453-2354.

Abby Bush

Abby Bush, a member of the Carbondale Community High School Educators Rising Club learns about the teaching profession at DeSoto Grade School.  (Photo provided)


Isabel Kaczynski and Makayla Peters, both Carbondale Community High School students and Educators Rising Club members helping children at DeSoto Grade School learn.  (Photo provided)


Vienna High School Superintendent Joshua Stafford, SIU Teacher Education Program Director Nancy Mundschenk and Du Quoin High School Principal Matthew Hickam at the first Educators Rising grant webinar.

change lives button

Buttons referencing SIU’s TEP program tagline were distributed by CCHS Educators Rising members at the spring “Closing the Gap” teaching conference.