First Class: JWU's Partnership Helps Tackle Teacher Shortages

Teachers are, by nature, problem solvers. Sometimes, the solution is a matter of fact, like 2 + 2. But often educators must solve for more complex questions. One of the most recent, and most pressing in Rhode Island, is how to fill the substitute teacher shortage.

Johnson & Wales has raised its hand and offered an answer.

JWU MAT student teaches a classroom of young studentsKayla Beauchamp, a JWU MAT student, leads a lesson at Raices Dual Language Academy.

Building a Plan

The substitute teacher shortage is unfortunately not new. The COVID pandemic only highlighted an existing need. In 2016, Jay Midwood, director of human capital for Central Falls, R.I., created the landmark Warrior Teaching Fellows program to address the district's shortage.

Recently, JWU and Central Falls formalized a partnership for Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) students to jump in as substitutes and earn valuable hands-on experience.

JWU School of Education Director and Department Chair Karen Swoboda, Ed.D., said she and Midwood saw a problem and brainstormed how to "build substitutes."

It's a win-win.

JWU's MAT program is designed for someone who wants to teach but didn't major in education as an undergraduate student. Sometimes that means students start straight out of undergrad, and sometimes it's a career change. Time in the classroom is key.

Plus "it leads to initial certification as a teacher in Rhode Island," said Swoboda.

The Partnership in Action

Right now, five JWU students take part in the program. They're placed at one school and become engrained within that community.

"[JWU students] are assigned to a building and sub for teachers who may be out," Swoboda explained. "It could be moving from class to class or covering for a teaching in professional development or meetings, and if there's no need for a sub, they do some tutoring or be a second set of hands."

Not only is the partnership providing hands-on teaching experience for these Wildcats, but they can earn close to $200 dollars a day for substitute teaching. The pay enables many of them to help pay for their education while receiving it.

"We want to support our candidates’ growth and development as teachers but we also want to support our local education authorities"

"Quite often, students go into debt to pay for a master's," Swoboda said. "A partnership that provides an income for our students is incredible."

These MAT students are also given opportunities to take part in professional development within their placements, getting paid for that as well. They teach in Central Falls on top of attending class for themselves three nights per week. It's not an easy lift — but there are benefits for all parties involved, including students in Rhode Island's public school system.

"The big push for partnerships is that we want to support our candidates’ growth and development as teachers but we also want to support our local education authorities who run the schools, so this kind of partnership supports the teacher pipeline in Rhode Island," Swoboda said.

Learn More about JWU's MAT program

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