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Omaha Public Schools addressing teacher shortages, success through student-teacher program

Posted at 7:11 AM, May 12, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It’s a problem that’s only getting worse

“We’ve had a teaching shortage for many years across the nation and that just continues to grow,” Omaha Public Schools (OPS) COO and Interim Chief Talent Officer Charles Wakefield said.

Omaha Public Schools is looking for more educators.

According to our partners at the Omaha World-Herald, nearly 700 teachers are projected to be leaving the state’s largest school district in the next couple of months.

OPS says most of the departures stem from the great resignation and all the challenges the pandemic brought.

The district says it is working with the teacher’s union to create the best possible salary package, has raised summer teaching wages, and offers a five percent salary increase to any teacher working in special education.

“So as we continue to look at those areas of shortages across the nation, we’re trying to address those individually with very specific programs,” Wakefield said. “Programs like para to educator, that takes our outstanding paras who have not yet finished college and provide them with an avenue to finish college, so that they can become that outstanding teacher for us.”

The program that has seen the most success has been offering its student teachers stipends.

“We traditionally receive around 50 student-teacher requests, and of course, we honor all of those because we love having student teachers,” Wakefield said. “This year, we are just over 100 as of yesterday morning.”

Previously, student teachers would go unpaid. Now, they receive $4,500 for half a semester and $9,000 for a full semester.

“Having the extra stipend just takes a lot of stress off of me,” Student-teacher Sarah Gonzales said.

Gonzales just finished up her semester of student teaching at Omaha South High School. The same school she attended when she was a student.

“I really had no other choice, like, I didn’t want to explore any other options because there is no other community like South Omaha,” Gonzales said. “I knew that I fit really well here and I relate to the kids here.”

She says student teaching is like a full-time job, and the stipend widens the opportunity for minorities to pursue careers in education.

“One of the reasons why there is not many people of color in education is because of those barriers,” Gonzales said. “Lots of times student teaching is unpaid, and a lot of times low income can’t afford to take that risk or to put so much work in to not see really any benefits out of it.”

While teachers have struggled with all the changes they’ve had to experience since the pandemic, this has been the norm for Gonzales and her peers, in both student teaching and their own college experience.

“I don’t have that previous expectation of having that easy, smooth-going year. So, this is kind of everything I’ve been working towards,” Gonzales said. “It’s what I’m used to, so I don’t feel as stretched this as many other teachers might.”

OPS says it retains around 60% of its student teachers full-time and is focused on creating a strong pipeline for future teachers.

“Really that becomes a semester-long interview for that student-teacher,” Wakefield said. “They get to interview us, we get to interview them, and it becomes that semester to allow us to recruit them.”

The full-time additions for next school year include Gonzales and a few of her peers.

“We have three other student teachers who are here right now who all graduated from South, and we’re all coming back,” Gonzales said. “So, it kind of feels like getting the family back together again, in a way.”

OPS says it couldn’t be more appreciative of its teachers, and all of its faculty, that have continued to put youth education first through all of the challenges they have had to face the last couple of years.

The district is hiring more than just teachers. If you are interested in working for OPS, click here.