Explain It Like I'm Nine: Low Substitute Fill Rates
Can’t find enough substitute teachers to cover teacher absences? Seems...
Kutztown Area School District needed more teachers. So along with several other districts, they offered education majors at nearby Kutztown University the chance to spend time in classrooms — at least 30 hours a year, starting as freshmen.
The goal? A source of amazing, well-trained teachers ready to hire upon graduation. But in the process, they uncovered another gem: the program is tremendously beneficial to teachers as well.
Superintendent George Fiore, high school math teacher Shaylon Krautwald, and Kutztown University education major Georgia Lobb give the details.
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GEORGE FIORE: We brainstormed about approaching the university about, “How could we positively impact this teacher shortage?” We didn’t call it a professional development school then, but we were looking for a partnership, some partnership, that we could help develop future educators as well as enhance our current education staff by being part of it.
Today on Field Trip, a look at how one school district is training future teachers, offering incredibly high-value professional development, and solving their teacher shortage at the same time.
GEORGE FIORE: We get to train our future educators and have them acclimate, and then bring them in for an interview and potentially hire if they’re the best candidate. It’s a win-win across the board.
SHAYLON KRAUTWALD: This is my 13th year teaching, and sometimes you kind of get in a rhythm and then you forget other things that you used to do that were interesting. And this is helping me make sure I bring them back and don’t just get into some boring routine, because it’s good for the kids to have constant different things that they’re doing in the classroom to engage them.
GEORGIA LOBB: I have so much to pull from and I use a lot of the things that Mrs. Krautwald does in her classroom in my lesson plans for the engagement part and for holding students accountable. There are a lot of different things that I can pull from that other students are telling me, “Wow, that’s such a good idea. Where’d you get that?” And I have to say, “Oh, Mrs. Krautwald, from the cohort.”
It’s the podcast for leaders in K-12 education, bringing you stories of people who tackle real-world issues with creative problem-solving.
GEORGE FIORE: We’re changing the narrative. We’re putting the value on creating a pipeline of future teachers. We’re putting a value on the profession of teaching.
From Frontline Education, this is Field Trip.
Somewhere between Reading and Allentown, Pennsylvania is the borough of Kutztown.
GEORGE FIORE: I’m George Fiore. I’m the Superintendent of the Kutztown Area School District.
When most people in eastern Pennsylvania hear “Kutztown,” they’re usually thinking of Kutztown University, a mid-sized state school that’s well-known for its education program. And I have to say, Kutztown is a great college town – a really nice place to live.
GEORGE FIORE: We also have a strong background in farming, so we have a nice blend of the progressiveness that you would find in a university town. We also have the wonderful parts of being a rural community, with a background in hard work and a belief that community matters.
Kutztown Area School District — I’m just going to say KASD from now on — has about 1,350 students. It’s a high-performing district, and there’s a lot of cohesion between teachers, the parents, and the students.
GEORGE FIORE: It’s a really a great place to work.
I sat down with Dr. Fiore because we got wind of one way that KASD, along with a few other districts in the area, is working with students at Kutztown University to provide real-world teaching experience, and eventually, attract them to work at the district.
RYAN ESTES: We’ve talked a lot about the teacher shortage on this podcast before: districts finding it difficult to get enough candidates to apply for open positions. Is this something that you have seen as well?
GEORGE FIORE: Absolutely. We are seeing huge teacher shortages across Pennsylvania and we have not been immune to it. We’ve seen about, in Pennsylvania, a 50% decrease in the amount of graduates in education. So that decrease has also impacted the amount of certifications that are available.
The high need areas of science and mathematics are very difficult to fill. We’ve had physics openings, we’ve had mathematics opening that are, we struggle, but at the same time we’re seeing that happen in other areas, even in elementary education, which used to be flush with candidates. That is no longer the case because, if you think about it mathematically, the population of teachers has shrunk, which means the quality or the total amount of quality educators has also shrunk. So as a school district we’re very conscious of how we’re going to recruit future teachers. How do we retain our current teachers? It’s really important to us to make sure that we’re able to find good educators, because it’s not going to get any better, when you see that decrease of 50% across the Commonwealth.
About three years ago, Dr. Fiore and several other superintendents were talking about this problem. They could see that finding STEM teachers especially, was going to be an issue. So they decided to do something about it.
GEORGE FIORE: And we said, “Is there anything we can do with our local universities?” And I’m an adjunct professor at Kutztown University. I’m also an alumni of the university. So we brainstormed about approaching the university about, “How could we positively impact this teacher shortage?” We didn’t call it a professional development school then, but we were looking for a partnership, some partnership that we could help develop future educators as well as enhance our current education staff by being part of it.
This group of superintendents reached out to the Dean for the College of Education at Kutztown University, and began kicking ideas around for how they could partner together.
GEORGE FIORE: The then dean was from New York, and he had experience with professional development schools. Professional development schools are not a new idea. It’s how we’re executing it that makes it unique. And the university’s dean brought in other members of faculty, and the faculty became very excited because one of the problems the university has is making sure they find quality placements for their student teachers. So that was an equal responsibility that we had, and we were willing to take on professional development school students as well as student teachers. So we made that commitment, a mutual commitment, which we realize could help grow future teachers within our program.
They wanted to identify students who were interested in being teachers as early as possible in their education.
GEORGE FIORE: So in their freshman year, what we were looking for is them to conduct observations in year one with our teachers. Then in subsequent years we would continue to ramp up their exposure to the education practice. That may include working one on one with students, working with small groups, and maybe even taking over a whole class.
So that was a continuum that we mashed up against the Danielson model, which is how Pennsylvania teachers are evaluated. We looked at the observation hours — or participation in classroom — about 30 hours minimum, throughout year one, year two, and so on. The hope is it would culminate in their junior field experience. They would stay with us, and if there was mutual agreement between the university and student, we would have them stay with us for student teaching. And that process, that vision, turned into an application process we put out across the university to education majors, interested education majors, for an interview and subsequent placement in our school districts based upon their interest, our interest, in specific areas and availability of staff.
GEORGIA LOBB: That’s one of the things that drew me into the PDS program, because they wanted to place you with someone who was of the content area you wanted, they put you where you wanted to teach one day.
That is Georgia Lobb, a junior.
GEORGIA LOBB: I’m a student at Kutztown University and I’m studying secondary education math.
They asked us why we want to be teachers, what was driving us to be in this program. And my response to most of this was, I wanted more experience in the classroom while still at an early age in my career. Most education majors don’t get as much experience in the classroom as I have gotten so far, which is a really cool thing for me to be advanced like that.
SHAYLON KRAUTWALD: My name is Shaylon Krautwald. I’m a high school math teacher at Kutztown Area High School. I teach Algebra One, Probability and Statistics, and AP Statistics.
Georgia usually comes in once a week in the afternoons currently, and she’ll come in during a period I have free, which works out because then we’ll have a discussion before the classes begin, and I’ll explain what I plan to do and why I planned to do it. Because sometimes when you see the classroom, you don’t realize all that goes into every single thing that you do and that there’s a thought behind everything. It’s not just, “Let me give this warmup and here’s the notes in here. It’s, “There’s a reason why we do everything we do.” And so it gives us that nice opportunity to discuss that. So she knows in advance what is about to happen, and there are things that she can look for and see how the students will react, whether it’s good or bad, and then what you can learn from everything that happened in the classroom.
GEORGIA LOBB: I didn’t really know where to be when I first walked into the classroom. So I think I sat in the back and maybe walked around a little bit, tried to make myself feel more comfortable than I might have actually been. I just walked around and observed what the students were doing and listened to Mrs. Krautwald teach and noticed her methods that she was using. I took notes on some things, different things that I liked that she did that I could know and maybe use in my future classroom.
Like most things, as they got going, some aspects of the program worked well, and other parts needed revision as time went on.
GEORGE FIORE: So when we first started out, we were very wide eyed and said, “Well, you know, we really wanted to take as many possible students as we could,” because we wanted to get the program off the ground. What we’ve discovered is that it is really important to identify motivated young people that are freshmen and sophomores in college. At first we were thinking, “Should we look at GPA, should we look at things like that?” And then we realized, which we’ve known as educators, don’t really correlate to the best teachers. What we’re looking for is high interest, high motivated individuals. And what we found in our second iteration is, we ask more questions about motivation. You know, there’s a lot of research on motivation of individuals, that that leads to future success. And we’re finding that, and we were fortunate to have 22 students from Kutztown University currently in our school district, and I could say they are very strong group because we curated that.
The second part of it is we had to look a little more at logistics. You know, we’ve been out of school for a little bit, and the major hurdle for university students is transportation. So we actually had to take a step back. And especially for being the school district that has the university in our town, I had to be willing to take on more student teachers because we didn’t want to turn anyone away who was willing, motivated, but because of a circumstance that they didn’t control, which was transportation, we had to accommodate.
Motivated, indeed. I asked what it looked like to promote the program to students.
GEORGE FIORE: What are the benefits? Why would it help you as a freshman, because you’re not getting a grade for this. And I think that’s maybe the misnomer, that sometimes we feel that you need to attach a grade to it for students to want to do it. And in this case, this is totally extra for our students, and particularly Georgia, because she’s motivated to be the best teacher. And it speaks a lot to our future educators that it’s not about a letter grade, it’s about a career, it’s about a vocation. And those are the people I want teaching our kids in our school district. So if we can find them at the age of 18 and then train them for four years, we’re going to be better off. And I think that’s the kind of communication we had to them. We also talked about, for these students, we would offer an interview at the end of their experience, because sometimes it’s really hard to get an interview, and we want to afford the opportunity, because this is part of their learning process.
GEORGIA LOBB: I think I have a lot of tools in my toolbox now, so to say, that I can use in my university classes now and for when I’m a teacher one day. When we have to do lesson plans and classroom environment assignments in class, I have so much to pull from, and I use a lot of the things that Mrs. Krautwald does in her classroom in my lesson plans for the engagement part and for holding students accountable. There’s a lot of different things that I can pull from that other students are telling me. “Wow, that’s such a good idea. Where’d you get that?” And I have to say, “Oh, Mrs. Krautwald from the cohort.”
I’m getting to see the same classrooms that I was in when I was in high school. But from a new perspective, which is important because we know the teachers, they teach in the classroom and they grade the papers, but we don’t know everything else until you are in the teacher’s shoes. And so being able to observe in the classroom from a teacher perspective has made me want to do it more, because I see all the benefits that come out of it and how much the students admire the teacher.
GEORGE FIORE: It is also beneficial to us. You know, we get to train our future educators and have them acclimate, and then bring them in for an interview and potentially hire if they’re the best candidate. It’s a win-win across the board. It’s not hard to find candidates. We’re actually at a point where we needed to expand the amount of school districts because we’re going to hit capacity, especially as a small school district. You think about four years. If I take 12 teachers a year, I’ll be almost at one third of my population of staff that has a student teacher, which isn’t terrible, but that’s a lot to take on.
It is a lot to take on. Mentoring a student teacher involves a lot of work on the part of teachers.
GEORGE FIORE: Teachers also don’t receive extra pay to do this either. So the teachers in our school district are the kind of examples of teachers that are motivated, that are excited about teaching kids and excited about growing the profession. I think that’s equally as important for us internally.
SHAYLON KRAUTWALD: I think I was a little hesitant and excited. There was excitement to me because I wanted to be part of itnd I think it’s a really great experience to be able to work with someone else. One of the greatest things I had when I became a teacher was the ability to collaborate with other teachers. I had the ability when I was a student teacher, but more so when I first began teaching, because I was at a large school where we had a really good professional learning community that gave me weekly interaction with other teachers to learn from them. And I learned so much by working them. So the thought of now being a teacher who can start working with younger teachers was just something I felt was really important because I think you learn the most from your colleagues. As much as you can learn in college, they just can’t possibly prepare you for everything you’re going to experience.
GEORGE FIORE: It speaks to the professionalism of the teachers within our school district, but also it grows their practice. They become better educators because the metacognitive work that goes into teaching someone else how to teach is so powerful for you to grow as an individual. And you know, Shaylon is a classic example of that. Thirteen years teaching and still willing to learn, doesn’t have it down. She will be learning to the day she’s done, but that’s what makes her a great teacher.
And if she can pass that along to Georgia, talk about how beautiful that is for our profession, and it speaks to the purpose and the impact of education on people across all sectors of life, regardless of your demographic background or your experience, you can make change that way and it’s the passion that I believe is what makes this a great experience.
SHAYLON KRAUTWALD: This is my 13th year teaching, and sometimes you kind of get in a rhythm and then you forget other things that you used to do that were interesting. And this is helping me make sure I bring them back and don’t just get into some boring routine, because it’s good for the kids to have constant different things that they’re doing in the classroom to engage them. And then she gets to see that and hopefully use or not use in the future.
All of the teachers and colleagues that I had in the past that helped me and gave me good ideas and helped me be a better teacher, made me want to help other teachers and other young adults looking to be a teacher to better their practice and help them get where they want it to be. Because teaching is really a career of passion. It is something where you have to be motivated to want to help others, whether it’s your students or other colleagues, or future teachers.
GEORGE FIORE: So when we were looking at, how do we pair student teachers and our teachers, we were looking first of all for content area expertise, and that was the easiest part, you would look at the content area. The second part, you had to have the right mindset as a teacher, especially working in ambiguity because anytime you start anything that’s worthwhile, you want to allow flexibility, which means there’s going to be ambiguity.
GEORGE FIORE: So those that are very strong left brain that need every detail, this was not for them. And that goes either way, from student to teacher, because we need the flexibility, because the creativity will come out of it. If we did it lock step, we would have been, I think, stuck in a program that might not have had the successes that it had. So we had to have the right mindset. We also were picking quality teachers, from our perspective, at the school district level. And when I say quality teachers, we have outstanding teachers in our school district, but to also partner with a university student, that’s a different skillset. It’s, are you able to metacognitively evaluate your practice, communicate it to someone else, and also have the ability to let go to have them try it in the future?
Besides teachers, they are our children. They belong to us, it’s very difficult to let go of that. So we had to find the right profile. In elementary school we were looking for the right match for experience because there are certain bands of certifications and when we were interviewing the college students, we were looking to see if they wanted a K1-2 experience, a 3-4-5 experience? Did they want more focus on a content area? Because there were some that were very strong in reading and ELA and some are strong in math, some are strong in science. So we had to pull out, in those interviews, what they really needed. And that’s how we matched up our teachers with students.
Dr. Fiore said that one of the goals of program was to cover all four domains of the Danielson Framework.
GEORGE FIORE: In order to have the student teachers at the university level be prepared to enter the field, they need to have a very strong command of the Danielson model, because it’s the framework that’s in that model talks about student engagement. But what does that really look like? And that’s sometimes the most difficult for any teacher. Even an experienced teacher, we struggle to— we want to perfect that and we realize that there’s no such thing as perfect, but it takes time, so we want to spend time there. We also want to expose— if you think about Domain 1 planning and preparation, that is something that you typically don’t see until you get into the job. So we want to spend the first experiences looking at, what does it mean to truly plan with IEP students?
What does it mean to plan and write a lesson plan that includes a diversity of activities? How do you differentiate for the vast abilities that you have in your class? So it is so important to work through that Danielson model. And then the reality of it, we shared at one of our meetings, is the most eye opening thing sometimes for new teachers is that half your job is teaching. The other half is the planning and preparation, the professionalism. How do you develop yourself? So the sooner we can expose them to all of those parts of that Danielson model, it will help with retention when they finally get in the job. You know, there’s a lot of research, for many years, that after the first five years, teachers leave the field.
Now we don’t see that in our school district. But if we’re going to serve this amount of students, why not remove those barriers? Because here’s an equal benefit of this program. I’d rather have someone say as a sophomore, “I don’t want to be a teacher,” then after they’ve completed four years, they’ve put a lot of time and money and now they’re like, “I have this degree, I have to do this, or I have to start over.” So there are mutual benefits across the whole scheme from their freshman year, all the way through, and the Danielson model is great framework to work within to get there.
Dr. Fiore said something a bit earlier that’s also important: the idea that, as students become more familiar with teaching in general, and the Danielson Framework in particular, it helps with retention later on.
GEORGE FIORE: If you think about where most teachers struggle in their first few years, it’s going to be in the areas of planning and preparation. I’ll start there. So the amount of planning and preparation that goes into teaching every single day with the diversity of learners is taxing.
It’s a tremendous amount of time. But when you’re exposed to it earlier in your career, you’re actually creating the habits of mind with regards to the work ethic of planning. It also helps expose at a much earlier age to seeing, what are the kinds of strategies that will reach students? So you’re trying to build this toolkit, and it’s very difficult when you’re a first year teacher because it’s a new job. You also have to not only plan the lesson, you have to execute it and then you have to have classroom management. So if we can start to remove those barriers much earlier with planning and preparation, that’s the first hurdle. The second hurdle in those first few years is, how do you manage a classroom? And it’s the procedures that go into it, which is part of your planning and preparation, because good planning can help you avoid a lot of issues that you may experience in the classroom.
Whether it’s, how do you organize your classroom? How do I distribute papers? Some of the smallest things fall apart for some inexperienced educators. So that helps with retention because they have those things down. They’ve seen them for over a… you think of over a three year time in the PDS program that we have, they will have over 90 hours of observation. So they have seen practices on how to organize the classroom. How do you plan for a student who has a high incidence of attention needed in their IEP, to someone who is a high achiever? How do you reach the student that’s in the middle that may not be overtly misbehaving or engaged? How do you do that? And those are the things that I think really impact retention.
It typically is not the other areas. You know, most people, they can get in front of and teach. When you hire them, if you have a good interview process, they probably have the chops to get in front. The issue is all of the other things that get in the way. Can you manage your classroom? Can you plan effectively? And I think that’s going to be a long term impact for all these students. You know, whether they work with us or not, I think it’s going to benefit them long term.
Another thing that happens when these college students spend time at KASD, they become part of the community, and that helps with the recruitment effort too.
GEORGE FIORE: Anything that they can do to be involved will help not only our kids grow, but it helps their growth in saying, “This is what great educators do,” not just good, not mediocre, great educators who are involved in the community. It is a vocation. Every teacher tells you that this is not an eight to three job. It is not from August to June. It is year round. It’s something after school. Because you get so much more out of the profession by doing it. These are the other parts that really pull people into education, especially if we can start when they’re freshmen. You know, when you hear any educators speak about the passion of their job, you don’t hear them say, “I just can’t wait to plan that lesson.” What they love is, “I love my kids. I love the community. I love the environment. I love that we have supportive people, whether it’s administration, support, staff, secretaries that really care about our success.” That’s the kind of community you build with this group of students, and that’s what we want them to do.
There are about 22 Kutztown University students who have taken part in the professional development school over the past 2 years. One aspect of being part of the community is that they are getting involved in leading extracurricular activities as well.
GEORGE FIORE: We have one of our clubs that are history day club at our middle school and we were always looking for students to join the program. But we’re also looking for teachers to take it on, and being a small school district, it is difficult sometimes to be able to recruit within our own staff.
Well, we were able to find one of our professional development school students that was highly interested in engaging in this and started out last year as a support. They would help students after school. Now they’ve taken on the middle school team and has helped lead our history day project, which to me, that is a win in itself because now they’ve actually moved from working in the professional development school to, now they’re taking on a club. Which every new teacher will tell you when you’re hired, that’s what happens. When we hire any new teacher, my last question is, “What’s the value-add you bring?” And I sign them up immediately: “You’re student council.” Well, imagine having that as a junior in college. You now see what it takes to organize a group of students, especially middle school students. Even if they don’t work here, that skillset when they go to an interview and then the subsequent job that they get, they’re far better prepared than I was when I left college, and I think that will lead to a fruitful career for them, and it removes a lot of the obstacles.
Up to this point, we’ve mostly looked at the impact this program has on the university students who are part of it. But there’s another side to it, too, and that is what it means for the mentor teachers who are working alongside them.
GEORGE FIORE: I think it’s pretty cool to have the superintendent ask you to participate in mentoring future teachers. That never happened for me. And I think it’s recognition of the hard work, because it’s really hard in our profession to sometimes recognize those that have this skill set. And you know, we highlighted Shaylon today because she has so much to offer. And the one way I can say thank you is by offering an experience. It’s one way of saying thank you, but also recognition of the hard work and the quality that that she puts forward, and how she could mentor a future math teacher, especially in a field where we don’t have enough females in it.
I want that to be seen, for Georgia to see that we have an outstanding female math teacher that is a role model for the young ladies and young men in our school. And I think that that’s the one way I can show that for our staff. I think the other added benefit for teachers is, we are now starting to create a cadre of professional development school teachers where we meet quarterly and we talk about what’s going on. You know, what are you seeing that’s working? What’s not working? It’s really a collaborative system. It’s definitely not top down, because if Shaylon said “I didn’t want to do something,” we will make sure it doesn’t happen, because it’s an organic process.
What we are is, we’re changing the narrative. We’re putting a value on creating a pipeline of future teachers. We’re putting a value on the profession of teaching. It is not something that anybody could do. I always say, if it was easy, everyone can do it. This is hard work. And the earlier we can start it, we’re showing that this holds great value and our community values it, our school board values it. I haven’t had anybody say but great things about us engaging it because it’s communicating, “We have great teachers and we care about the future teachers that are going to get in front of our future children.”
One of my hopes throughout the program, and I’ve heard it through the metacognitive reflection of our teachers about it. So we have 22 of our teachers that are engaged in this process, and what they have to do to be effective in this program is talk about what they do each day, the “why” behind how they organize their room. Because I think when you bring that to the forefront every day, for 30 hours at minimum, they’re refining their craft. They’re being more careful in saying, “This is why I organized my classroom this way. This is why I asked these questions.”
Some of the activities that we engaged in with our teachers was giving them some starters, because when they’re observing, what are they observing? The university gives them a series of questions. But Shaylon, who has Georgia in her room, could say, “I want you to write down every question I asked this period.” Think how powerful just that activity is. Because then Shaylon’s got to think about “Why am I asking these questions?” Georgia has to analyze, why is she asking these questions, and what is the methodology that ties to… You know, it all ends up at brain science in the end. How did the students learn factoring because of the questions and structure of the activity?
SHAYLON KRAUTWALD: When you have to be able to explain yourself to someone else and to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, it helps to better organize all the information in your head so that you actually do it even better, because the reflection process that you have to take part of before you explain it to someone else makes you think even deeper about all your practices.
GEORGE FIORE: To me, that is an incredible benefit that I can’t really pay for through professional development. I can’t have my teachers sit there and have me present or go to a training which teaches that. But by them doing that automatically in these conversations, they are better teachers and we’re excited for that.
RYAN ESTES: Could what you’re doing here work anywhere?
GEORGE FIORE: Absolutely. The key is having the support and the ability to sustain it. It is work, especially for your teachers. It’s work at the university level. It’s work for the superintendent by taking it on as a priority and engaging in it. The five superintendents, this takes a good amount of time, but it’s worth it because in the end, if we look at… so Georgia is a junior. Two years from now when I have a mathematics opening and I look and there’s one candidate sitting there, or could I have trained Georgia or a student like Georgia for three years, and then we could say, we bring her in for interview. We have now truly created a pipeline of future employees.
To me, that’s worth every second, because all you need is one time where you don’t have a qualified teacher. It’s devastating to your kids, so it is worth it. It’s my why, right? You come to work and you say, “I want to put a quality teacher in front of every kid,” and it’s a 35 year relationship. So when you start doing the cost/benefit analysis, is it worth it? Well, we are, we’re going to have Georgia, when we hire her for 35 years, in front of kids. That is one of the longest commitments that you can make at an organization. Why not train the heck out of them real early so that she loves this place and she’s well trained and she is, from day one, a top notch teacher.
We’ve been speaking with Dr. George Fiore, superintendent of Kutztown Area School District in Pennsylvania. Dr. Fiore, it’s been great having you having with us today.
GEORGE FIORE: Thank you. I appreciate it.
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Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education. Frontline’s industry-leading software is designed exclusively for K-12, and is built to help school systems recruit, hire, engage, develop and retain their employees, because we believe that’s what makes the difference for students. For more information, visit FrontlineEducation.com/FieldTripPodcast.
For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.