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Why student teachers and counselors have not been used to address substitute shortage

Posted at 6:58 AM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 06:58:36-05

NOVI, Mich. (WXYZ) — School leaders say they are in crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in absences and schools are struggling to find enough substitute teachers.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed emergency legislation that allows food service workers, secretaries, bus drivers and other school staff to substitute. Some viewers asked 7 Action News whether student teachers and counselors should be part of the solution too. We asked some leaders in education for their thoughts.

“The educational system is an essential part of our society,” said Alyssa Searles.

Searles is not just talk. She has completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree studies and Monday started her first of two semesters as a counseling intern at Novi High. She is also paying tens of thousands to her university for the internship.

“Most people don’t understand that you would have to pay for the privilege of doing your internship,” said Dr. RJ Webber, Novi Assistant Superintendent of Academics

Dr. RJ Webber says we are in a crisis situation, and a priority has to be keeping schools open. At the same time, he believes that the training student teachers and counselors receive is career-making. He says it needs to be valued and protected.

“My problem is the more time they spend substituting, the less time they spend being mentored and doing this profession well,” said Dr. Anthony Tuf Francis, Oakland University Associate Professor in the School of Education.

Dr. Francis says the question is one student educators often ask. They also often ask why they aren’t paid for their internship. He says it is a matter of equity. Students don’t get to choose where they intern in education. They are assigned. And many schools could not afford paid internships.

“I think they should be paid for being mentored. Not plugging the holes that are created by the attackers of public schools,” said Dr. Francis.

“I don’t ever want it to be that we minimize what our student counselors are doing our teaching interns are doing. Because that is integral for them to be strong teachers and strong counselors,” said Sarah Lephart, Novi High School Counselor.

Lephart says she believes the mentoring she provides is important to prepare future counselors to help students succeed. She says the work is especially challenging here in Michigan.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a 250 student to 1 counselor ratio. It found Michigan ranks 49th in the nation when it comes to that ratio, with 671 students per counselor.

At a time when many are discussing whether that should be addressed to help students' social-emotional wellness and prevent school violence - educators here at Novi schools say making becoming a counselor, social worker or teacher more accessible financially is important.

“It is a crisis,” said Dr. Webber.