Illinois’s Teacher Shortage Visualized

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recently released a survey showing school districts in Illinois have 1,006 unfilled teacher positions this year. Teacher vacancies can mean larger class sizes or, in smaller school districts, classes that just aren’t offered. In addition, 74% of the vacancies are in majority-minority school districts, while 81% are in districts where a majority of students are low-income. The net result is that while all Illinois students’ educations suffer from issues related to teacher vacancies, those students who have been historically marginalized face the greatest barriers to a high-quality education and support.

The effect of these teacher shortages have been visualized by Advance Illinois, providing an interactive map and graphic of where and in what fields those vacancies are located. Overall, more than half of the state’s unfilled teacher positions are in Special Education and bilingual education. Regional differences can be seen as well, with downstate seeing vacancies in a broader range of subject areas than Chicago or the collar counties.

ISBE also provides some interactive information on all school vacancies, and the number of open positions for school support personnel is almost as high as that for teachers. These positions include jobs such as school nurses, guidance counselors, and school social workers.

There are various explanations for the shortage both here in Illinois and nationwide, including:

  • A declining number of high school graduates
  • Uncertainty regarding the state pension issue
  • Changes in the position, with teachers often having to take up more of a social worker role
  • Difficulties in obtaining a teaching license in Illinois

Since 1935, Illinois PTA has encouraged graduating seniors to go into teaching or other education-related fields (e.g., school nursing) through the Illinois PTA Scholarship Program. Over the years, this program has awarded more than $2.5 million in scholarships. The scholarship fund is supported by purchased awards and through direct donations. If you’re struggling to find a way to recognize your child’s teacher this holiday season, consider making a donation in their name to the Illinois PTA Scholarship Fund.

For graduating seniors planning to go into teaching or an education-related field, the 2017-2018 Illinois PTA Scholarship application is online. The deadline to apply is February 15, 2018.

Thanking Your Volunteers

The holidays are a time for reflection and gratitude. It’s also the midpoint of the school year, which makes it a good time as a PTA leader to take a bit of time to think about what you’ve accomplished so far and what lies ahead.

A good part of your PTA’s success depends on your volunteers, which makes the holiday season a good time to show them some gratitude. One meaningful way to show your appreciation to your volunteers is a simple thank you note. If you’re not sure what to say, this love to know blog post provides some sample thank you notes and tips on writing them.

If writing is not your style or strength, check out the Appreciate Volunteers website. The site was created by two longtime volunteers who know the passion and dedication volunteering takes and who wanted to help those managing volunteers recognize them and their efforts. The site has a variety of categories, including:

  • New Volunteers
  • Simple Volunteer Recognition
  • Volunteer Anniversaries
  • Volunteer Appreciation Gifts
  • Volunteer Appreciation Ideas
  • Volunteer Parties
  • Volunteer Recognition Events
  • Volunteer Recognition on a Budget

Showing your volunteers your appreciation and gratitude for the time and effort they put forth for your PTA helps to keep them involved going forward and can help bring in new volunteers. There’s a benefit for you as well: studies show that expressing gratitude can make you happier.

13 Necessary Next Steps for Parents After an Autism Diagnosis

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), about 1 in 68 children has been identified as being autistic, with boys being approximately 4.5 times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. The latter detail is still being debated, as autism diagnosis criteria were developed primarily with data from boys, autism presents differently in girls, and girls may be better at masking their difficulties in order to fit in with their peers; all of which may mean that the occurrence of autism is even higher.

The increased diagnosis of autism means that many families are struggling to understand and come to terms with what this means for their child and their child’s future. The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism published an article earlier this year on 13 next steps for parents after and autism diagnosis. They are:

  1. Give yourself time to adjust.
  2. Give the people around you time to adjust, and keep them in the loop.
  3. Give yourself time to process information critically.
  4. Give yourself time to learn which organizations and people to trust.
  5. Give yourself time to figure out what autism means for your child.
  6. Give yourself time to figure out what communication looks like for your child.
  7. Give yourself time to figure out which supports, schools, therapies, and environments will help your child succeed.
  8. Give yourself the space to be flexible about needs, and pick your battles.
  9. Give yourself time to find autistic role models for your child.
  10. Give yourself time to think about shared traits.
  11. Give your child space to grow and change.
  12. Give yourself time to figure out what your child really enjoys.
  13. Give yourself time to plan for your child’s future without you.

An autism diagnosis can be a relief that the challenges you and your child have been facing have an explanation. It can also bring worry and concern for your child’s future. Be sure to read the full article for details and resources linked to each of the above points. There is a growing community of autistic teenagers and adults online sharing their experiences and speaking up for others on the spectrum that can also help a family understand what an autism diagnosis means (see the #ActuallyAutistic hashtag on Twitter).

NASA’s Kids’ Club

STEM education—focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math—has received a lot of attention in recent years. Part of the reason for that is STEM jobs are experiencing significant growth and are expected to continue to do so, but the number of STEM workers our education system is producing is not keeping up with that growth, especially among women and minorities.

To help get young students excited about STEM fields, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had created NASA Kids’ Club, a collection on online games and activities that provide a safe place for children to play and explore as they learn about NASA and its missions.

NASA and the exploration of space are naturals for engaging children in STEM. Indeed, many current scientists and engineers attribute their interest in their fields to the inspiration provided by the Apollo moon missions.

The games and activities included at NASA’s Kids’ Club align with the Illinois Learning Standards for Science, which are based on the Next Generation Science Standards. The parent information page for NASA’s Kids’ Club shares which activities align with which grades and standards. And while the activities align with Kindergarten through fourth grade standards, any pre-K or elementary aged student can enjoy the activities.