Libby Whited and Morgan MacDonald were two of nine Douglas County high school students who were able to take a college-level course on education, the latest plan to address a teacher shortage.
Whited, who graduated from Sutherlin High School in 2021, said she wanted to be a teacher since she was about 10 years old.
“Throughout my high school career, I was involved in FFA,” she said. “FFA kind of solidified that for me, because it allowed me to go into some classrooms and help teach a lesson and interact with the kids and then in my junior year I was able to go into a kindergarten classroom at East Primary School and work as a teacher’s assistant there. That also, definitely, solidified my decision of wanted to be a teacher, just because it gave me so much more interaction, and I really enjoyed that.”
Whited said her counselor asked her to join the college course, but she was hesitant to participate at first because she was already taking a full load of high school classes and a college course — making this her second college course. But then a friend’s parent, who works for the Douglas Education Service District, also encouraged her to take the course, and then she got a phone call from someone else connected to the course and she finally decided to take the class.
“I figured it would benefit me in the future and I might as well take a free college class,” Whited said.
Umpqua Community College’s intro to education class was made available to students throughout Douglas County and saw nine students from six different school districts — Roseburg, North Douglas, Winston-Dillard, Riddle, South Umpqua and Sutherlin — sign up for the twice a week virtual course taught by associate professor Gwen Soderberg-Chase.
Douglas Education Service District was able to provide the class at no cost to the students thanks to a $155,677 Grow Your Own Teacher Pathways grant from the Educator Advancement Council. The grant is intended to develop the conditions needed to diversify the teacher workforce and provide equitable pathways for community members to become teachers and counselors in Douglas County, according to DESD spokesperson Heather Villa.
The grant supports a partnership, called Teach Umpqua, between the education service district, local school districts and Umpqua Community College that is trying to increase the number of underrepresented high school students, non-licensed school employees and rural community members who are preparing for a career in education.”
Deborah Whitaker, Grow Your Own facilitator for the education service district, said the shortage of teachers and counselors is a significant concern.
“Nationwide, we have a major teacher and counselor shortage problem,” Whitaker said. “We’re going to run out of teachers if we don’t do something about it.”
In the last school year there were 117 teaching positions open within the Douglas Education Service District, which represents 15% of all teachers needed in the district. Throughout the application process, six positions remained unfilled and 54 of 770 teachers worked on an emergency license, according to DESD. Information from the education service district also revealed that 40 school staff members were working toward a teacher license.
“On top of (the teacher shortage), the research is showing that students need to see a mirror of themselves in their teachers,” Whitaker said. “So, if there’s indigenous students, they supposedly — this research shows — they learn best from an indigenous teacher or principal or counselor or whatever.”
In Douglas County’s largest school district, Roseburg, 91% of teachers were white while 78% of students identified as white, according to Oregon Department of Education data from the 2019-2020 school year. The largest disparity came in the hispanic/latino population which included 12% of the student body but just 4% of the teachers. Additionally, 4% of teachers were multiracial, while 7% of students identified as such.
All school districts in the county saw a white teacher population that was larger than the white student population.
Whitaker said she’s reaching out to affinity groups for Black educators, English second language teachers, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and other native groups to see how they can make changes to attract more diverse teachers.
“The concept is that every community really should be matching the percentages of their students in their teacher and counselor and principal population,” Whitaker said. “That’s the ideal world, so to speak. Rural is also one of those ways of diversifying.”
The college course is just one of several programs designed to train teachers in our rural area.
Soderberg-Chase said. “We now have a dynamic system in place that allows our community to grow our own teachers.”
High school counselors and teachers reached out to students they thought would be interested in the program.
MacDonald, who graduated from North Douglas High School this year, said, “It was actually offered to me by a teacher in my high school. She knew I wanted to be a teacher, so she gave me the opportunity to do that.”
MacDonald and Whited both said they’d like to return to smaller, rural school districts once they are licensed teachers.
“My school specifically, they keep the classes small so it’s kind of easier for the teacher to work with those students, because the classes are fairly small,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald will be attending Lane Community College in the fall to work toward her associate degree with the hopes of transferring to the University of Oregon in two years. While she attends school, she hopes to work for the North Douglas School District.
“I’m hoping to work part-time as an instructional assistant,” she said, adding that she’d be helping out at summer school this year.
Whited will start working toward her bachelor’s degree in education at Western Oregon University this fall.
Other Teach Umpqua programs include reaching out to people in the community about becoming teachers, and working to retain the teachers that are already working in Douglas County.
“This program is about recruiting, but it’s also about retaining,” Whitaker said.
Sanne Godfrey can be reached at [email protected] or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.