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Learning experience in District 303

ST. CHARLES – Dawn Martin hasn’t had much luck finding a teaching job since earning her master’s degree in education three years ago.

So when she heard about the internship program beginning this fall at St. Charles School District 303, she saw it as a way to get her foot in the door for full-time employment.

Martin has been co-teaching a third-grade class at Wasco Elementary School since October. She has taken on social studies as her primary subject, interacted with parents and had opportunities to substitute teach.

“If you can afford to work semi-unpaid, the experience is just invaluable,” said Martin, who previously worked in the legal field.

Superintendent Don Schlomann stressed the Educator Intern Partnership wasn’t created to generate free labor for the district. First and foremost, he said, it helps the district meet students’ needs and provides experience for certified educators without full-time employment.

“The teaching market in many areas is not very strong, so there’s a lot of teachers graduating who are not able to attain jobs right away,” he said.

According to the Educator Supply and Demand in Illinois 2011 Annual Report, the number of new teaching certificates issued has increased, on average, by 3 percent a year since 2006. More than 19,000 people reportedly earned certificates in 2010, up by 2.6 percent from 2009 and 10 percent from 2008.

In 2011, Kane and DuPage counties reported no unfilled positions – budgeted positions not filled because of a lack of qualified applicants. Chicago collar counties overall accounted for 10 percent of unfilled positions in the state, down from 26 percent between 2001 and 2008, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the K-12 education system reportedly is experiencing declining enrollment that is projected through 2015. Since 2007, the report states, statewide enrollment has decreased by 33,000 students.

After graduation, 26-year-old Brittany Peterman said she worked as an aide for three years in a district that wasn’t hiring teachers.

“They were making cuts,” she said.

Peterman, who is new to the suburbs, said the internship program has given her a chance to learn about a local school district.

“I’m very glad this opportunity was available,” she said. “So far, I really, really enjoy it.”

She teaches first-graders at Corron Elementary School and has observed classrooms in other grades. Unlike student teaching, she said, the internship experience lets her focus on the students and other school activities.

“It’s nothing that a textbook could teach you,” Peterman said.

Vicki Phelps, the Wasco teacher paired with Martin, said she has talked with Martin about building assessments, planning, monitoring students’ growth and matching their classroom lessons to the state’s common core standards.

Together, Phelps said, they can work with students in smaller groups, better designing instruction to meet their needs. Before, one group would have to work independently while she worked with the other.

“Our collaboration has been fantastic,” Phelps said. “It truly is a co-teaching experience.”

Martin said she hopes the idea spreads to other school districts.

“Student teaching is only a semester,” Martin said. “This really is a chance to go and be a full-time teacher.”

District 303 hopes to continue the program, Schlomann said. He said there weren’t as many applicants as the district had hoped for.

“It was so new people really didn’t understand it,” he said. “It took a lot of explaining on our part to get people to understand what the concept was all about.”

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