MANSFIELD — Crystal Davis Weese, Terri Bucci and Ashley Smith know the substitute teacher shortage is a problem.
They believe the answer is right here in our community.
It's the stay-at-home mom looking for some extra income. It's the recent high school graduate unsure of his long-term career path. It's the retiree who's always had a heart for kids and the 40-something looking for a career change.
That's why the North End Community Improvement Collaborative, Ohio State University Mansfield Campus and Mind Body Align have partnered to offer a free workshop to anyone interested in substitute teaching or pursuing a career in education.
“We need more people from the Mansfield area to become educators. That's what we need and that's what the community needs. That's what kids need," said Bucci, a professor and coordinator of the Ohio State University Mansfield's education department.
“We have great teachers right now, but we need to pull in more from the neighborhoods that the kids are coming from.”
The Emerging Educators workshop will be held Aug. 20 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 134 N. Main Street in Mansfield. A light breakfast and childcare will be provided.
Organizers say the goal is participants will leave better-equipped to teach, but also to deal with the social, emotional and behavioral issues they may encounter in the classroom.
“Public school is very different from what most people walked into years ago,” said Davis Weese, a former career tech educator and career coordinator at NECIC.
"We have to prepare (students') minds to learn before we even begin," she said. "They have been at home for extended amounts of length of time. They have been learning electronically."
The workshop will start with an overview of basic teaching principles, strategies for engaging students and classroom management techniques led by Bucci and Smith, a former intervention specialist and assistant coordinator of the education department at The Ohio State University's Mansfield campus.
Bucci’s strategies include simple games and ways to integrate movement into teaching.
Davis Weese said Bucci's knack for bringing a bit of personality into the classroom helps break down barriers with students.
“The most important part is connection,” she said. “When students see this person who's up moving – interacting, playing, giggling and laughing, it creates a different kind of scenario.”
Jen Blue of Mind Body Align will also guide the cohort through a session on mindfulness.
Jeremy Smith, a licensed counselor from Appleseed Community Health Center, will present on trauma-informed responses and how to have difficult conversations.
To register for the workshop, email email@example.com or call 419-610-1587.
Creating a "neighborhood teacher" pipeline
This month's event will be the third stand-alone workshop ran by Bucci, Smith and Davis Weese.
Each workshop is part of an ongoing effort to get more community members involved in local education.
Ohio has waived its bachelor's degree requirement for substitutes through the 2023-24 school year. In turn, the workshop team saw a need – and an opportunity.
“We knew that people would be afraid of that, so we decided to prepare (prospective substitutes) as much as we could in a really kind of holistic way," Davis Weese said.
As a mother of three young students, Smith saw the impact of the substitute shortage first-hand. So she partnered with Bucci and Davis Weese, who were already working on initiatives to get more minority educators and people of color interested in education careers.
The team surveyed administrators from Richland County's nine public school districts. Seven responded, offering insight into what schools need most from their substitute teachers.
Superintendents stated that training on professionalism and handling student behavior would be most helpful, followed by teaching strategies and technology.
“We have a lot of exceptional people in Mansfield that can be tapped in for this," Bucci said.
"We have people who are passionate, who want to have a positive effect on this community. They just need to know how to start and this is a place to start."
Getting more community members involved wouldn't just help with shortages. It also has the potential to boost students' academic performance.
Bucci said students are more likely to succeed in class when they have teachers who are from their neighborhood.
"The research tells us that students excel when their teachers know their world experiences and look like them," she explained. "Because then they trust the teacher.”
Davis Weese said sometimes it takes some extra effort to get people of color interested in education careers, which is why she reaches out to people she thinks may be good fit and encourages them to register.
"A lot of times in our community, when it comes to some African American males or people of diversity, their original connections with school were negative," she explained.
Others may be interested in education, but the prospect of a career change feels overwhelming.
That's why a big component of the emerging educator initiative is creating an ongoing support network that participants can take advantage of long after attending a seminar.
Each workshop ends with information about next steps -- whether it's filling out an application for a substitute teaching license or enrolling in additional courses.
Participants are encouraged to keep in contact with each other and reach out to Bucci, Smith or Davis Weese in the future for additional support and resources.
“We’re insanely passionate about what education looks like and how it changes the life of people, and so we just want to support them through that journey," Davis Weese said.
The first two workshops, which were held in February and March, are already yielding results.
Fifteen people participated in the first two sessions. Davis Weese said she was aware of at least six people who went on to get a substitute teaching license and work in a local school district.
One of them is D'andria Jones, a 2020 graduate of Mansfield Senior High School.
In the fall of 2020, Jones began pursuing a college degree in political science. After a few semesters, she started to feel burned out and took a leave of absence.
“When I took that leave of absence it felt like the end of the world,” Jones recalled. “I didn’t know what I liked to do anymore.”
Looking to expand her skillset, she signed up for the workshop and spent the spring substitute teaching.
She admitted it wasn't easy at first, but said it was a worthwhile experience. Her biggest takeaway from the workshop was the importance of being flexible and thinking on her feet.
“It did give me the tools to prepare to walk into the situation and feel like I can do it," she said.
"It’s rewarding -- seeing kids in school with their peers and friends and just being there for them. You can be the cool sub. You can be the person that they chat to, even for that day."
A few months later, Jones saw a job posting for a behavioral technician at the Silver Lining Group.
She believes having the workshop on her resume helped her land the position.
“Behavioral technicians, they’re teaching fundamental skills like brushing your teeth, how to comb your hair, how to tie your shoes – the basics,” she said. “I definitely love this job and what I do. I’m grateful to be doing it.”
Jones said she'd encourage anyone curious about a career in education to attend the workshop.
“There’s no harm in having another certification under your belt, having another notch in your resume," she said.
For communities interested in replicating the workshop model, Bucci recommends recruiting a group of leaders with varying specialties to spearhead the project.
Involving universities, active non-profits and mental health specialists is a good place to start.
“You need a collection of people who are all likeminded and really have this worldview of neighborhood teachers," she said.
“I think it takes all of those voices to to really speak to the need of today's emerging educators.”