Students enrolled in Payson’s fledgling Ed Professions Program to educate the next generation of educators won nine major awards last Thursday and Friday at a statewide conference.
The group not only won the top award statewide for designing its own banner, but also won two awards for great speeches and others for designing lessons in technology and shining in job interviews.
Not only that, Sarah Davis was elected as a state officer for the organization — after also winning third in a speech contest.
The local star of the two-day effort to get high school kids excited about careers as educators was Natalie Harper, who got first place in a job interview and application and interview competition and third place in the “impromptu speech” category.
“It was great — they did fantastic,” said Ingrid Schon, who teaches the Ed Professions Program, a series of four classes for students seeking careers in teaching or social services and also serves as the adviser to the campus chapter of Future Educators of America.
Funded mostly with state and federal grants, the program hopes to head off a projected teacher shortage by getting students interested in a career as an educator. The students work their way through the program to their junior and senior year, when they can both get college credit and actually teach classes in district elementary schools, under the supervision of a veteran teacher.
Schon said she is heartened by the energy and enthusiasm of the students who want to be teachers, despite the discouraging national trends and the rising criticism of teachers.
“It’s very negative press,” she said,
“And it’s very difficult. But that’s one of the issues the kids had to talk about. How do we approach that? It’s about people understanding that we need to educate our young people. But the conference was very up — very positive, very fun. I told the kids I’ve watched this in education for more than 30 years — watched the pendulum go back and forth. In reality, we’re facing a tremendous teacher shortage. I tell them they have to hang in there — if that’s your passion, don’t let them stop you.”
Teachers both in Payson and nationally are facing a wave of layoffs, due to shrinking school budgets. That has also caused the sharp reversal in a decade of progress in lowering class sizes nationally.
Even before the increase in class sizes and widespread salary freezes, about 20 percent of new teachers quit within the first three years.
The nation will need 2.2 million new teachers in the next decade, to replace a record wave of baby boomer retirements, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The shortage of math and science teachers has already become acute.
“What’s happening: as baby boomers retire in the next five to 10 years, we’ll have a major teacher shortage,” said Schon.
“A lot of our quality young people are not going into education at all. They’re looking for higher salaries.
“The number of people applying to ASU’s teacher training program is really low. So that’s going to create a shortage so we’re trying to get some incentives going, get the kids involved.”
The Payson kids who wracked up a slew of awards at the statewide conference last week at Grand Canyon College in the Valley certainly have gotten the message.
The FEA chapter in Payson has about 45 members now, many of whom take the Career and Technical Education four-course series that targets would-be teachers and social workers. The FEA chapter meets monthly and focuses on an array of projects.
For instance, students have gotten deeply involved in the community, raising money for the Time Out domestic violence shelter, participating in the Dr. Seuss night at the library for little kids and supporting efforts of Rim Country Literacy.
Academically, students learn how to speak in public, write lesson plans, devise lessons in computers and technology and cope with the sometimes complicated demands of modern students.
One of the competitions at the conference involved problem solving centered on ethical issues. In this case, students had to figure out what to do about a bright student with high grades, who felt so pressured to succeed that she surrendered to the temptation to plagiarize material from the Internet for a school paper.
“It was a high achiever kid who got overwhelmed,” said Schon.
“So the group had to decide what to do. So they looked at the rules and thought about it and decided to give the student an F on the assignment and require them to redo it, but not to expel them.”
Schon said that the idealism and enthusiasm of the young students restores her faith, even in the face of the drumbeat of cuts and criticism directed at teachers these days.
That’s especially true every Tuesday and Thursday, when her students go to Frontier Elementary School to present their lesson plans to students there.
“The little ones actually love them,” said Schon of the reaction of the elementary school students to their fledgling instructors.
“They get so excited, because they’re young, they’re enthusiastic they get upset when they’re not there — like last Thursday, when we were at the conference.”
The haul of awards represented a triumph for a club in its second year at a small school, but against long-established chapters from much larger districts.
“These kids are getting involved and really have a lot of integrity. They’re wonderful. Our group was awesome — quite a team. It has been so cool to watch them evolve.