Future Educators' Day draws more than 50 high school students to ESU 6

Future Educators' Day draws more than 50 high school students to ESU 6

By Tyler Dahlgren

The first ever Future Educators’ Day attracted more than 50 area sophomores, juniors and seniors to ESU 6 in Milford last Monday for a fast-moving event that gave the students an inside-look at life as a teacher.

The line-up of presenters, including ESU 6 staff (April Kelley, Michelle Rayburn, Nichole Hall and Vicki Taylor) and representatives from three post-secondary institutions, provided students with a wide-range of unique and informative insights. Kelley and Rayburn discussed the rewards of teaching, while Nichole Hall went over successful interview habits and Taylor wrapped up the day by diving into compensation and salary for educators.

During lunch, Dr. Shanna Opfer (Concordia), Dr. Rod Diercks (Doane) and Colin Truhe (UNL) spent 20 minutes each introducing students to their universities and everything each institution has to offer.

The highlight of the day, perhaps, was a panel comprised of students from UNL (Sophia Garcia and Shelby Barnesberger), Concordia (Grace Jonas and Michael Grundstrom) and Doane (Kyler Beekman, Payton Cooley and Julia Ramirez), who shared their personal journeys into education and answered questions from attendees.

ESU 6 administrator Dr. John Skretta, who moderated the hour-long panel discussion, said hearing from actual college students would resonate with the high-schoolers in attendance.

“When they get to meet the college students who are on the college student panel here later this afternoon, they're going to see themselves, you know?” said Dr. Skretta. “They're going to say, "I can fast forward a couple of years and I'm that dude or I'm that gal." I just think that's going to be really exciting to them.”

Enjoy our Q&A with ESU 6 Administrator Dr. John Skretta!

Q: How did the Future Educators’ Day come together, and, although the summit was available to seniors too, how did you structure the format of the day so that it would appeal to those sophomores and juniors in ESU 6’s area that have an eye on education as a future career?

Dr. Skretta: Well, in terms of just trying to get dialed in on the grade level that we wanted to target, we figured that, for the most part, high school seniors have already made a determination about what their likely next step is. But if we could catch students early enough in their high school careers, that they would have identified a potential career or vocation of interest to them. We figured, with an event like this, we could take that formative initial interest and really level up their enthusiasm for the profession. And, hopefully, really solidify their commitment to pursuing teaching or pursuing a career in education.

Q: There's a wide range of speakers here today, a broad spectrum of insights and perspectives attendees will get. Was that an intention of yours when you were putting together the line-up of presenters? To both utilize the expertise of your staff, but also bring in some people from the outside, those post-secondary institutions in the area, of which there are many?

Dr. Skretta: One of the privileges of working at an educational service unit is that we get to connect, not just with our school districts across the region, but we're also pursuing different strategic partnership initiatives with our post-secondary institutions. And ESU 6 is really fortunate because right in our own backyard we've got Concordia University in Seward, just eight miles down the road. Crete is about 20 minutes away and we've got Doane University there. And we're literally about 25 minutes max from Downtown Lincoln and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

In each one of these, from UNL to the Colleges of Education at Doane and Concordia, in conversations with those folks, they've identified that, "Hey, we want to be a part of recruiting people into the profession. We want to be involved in outreach efforts that can engage with younger people." So we’re very fortunate to have those connections and that common, shared goal.

And our school districts, in particular, our building principals and our superintendents have been saying, "Hey, we've got to connect with young people earlier to enlighten them about the benefits of pursuing a career in education and take, if there's some interest, that burgeoning interest and build on it."

It occurred to us that this was a really great place for an ESU to step in because we can be a hub to bring people together. Now, I will tell you, candidly, we did not have any idea how many registrants to anticipate when we floated it out there. We just put together what we thought was a really valuable program of, "Hey, we're going to talk to you about the state of the profession right now, and we're going to keep it real. We're going to reference some real numbers for you that help hopefully clarify for young people what the opportunities really look like."

So that was kind of my role kicking things off. We're going to try to motivate you, and we're going to try to really give you some tools for a teacher's toolbox. That's really what April (Kelley) and Michelle (Rayburn) have done over the last hour. And then Nichole (Hall) is going to talk with them about some things that are really pertinent if you become an upperclassmen in high school, and you're looking at things like college applications and scholarship apps and so forth. Because that same skill set for a young person translates later to, "How am I advertising and promoting the best version of myself to become the most appealing candidate for the jobs I'm later going to be seeking?"

And to be able to layer that then with folks who are here, UNL will be sending a recruiting officer from the College of Education, we've got faculty from Doane, we've got the Dean of the College of Education from Concordia here, too, they're going to be able to bring those valuable perspectives from the other end. When that is followed by actual college students who are pursuing a program in their respective school, it's going to be a day that hopefully creates a memorable experience for the high school students who are here and just really galvanizes their commitment to pursuing teaching.

Q: To have those college students here, what does that mean for ESU 6? That they would take their Monday to come to Milford and advocate for the teaching profession on behalf of their institutions and their education departments, that’s a pretty cool deal.

Dr. Skretta: Oh man. It's huge because someone like me standing up in front of that group this morning, it's an honor to see dozens of young people who are interested in pursuing the vocation, but when they see me, they may not be seeing themselves. You know what I mean? I'm a 52-year-old, 20-plus year education administrator veteran, right? These are high school students. When they get to meet the college students who are on the college student panel here later this afternoon, they're going to see themselves, you know? They're going to say, "I can fast forward a couple of years and I'm that dude or I'm that gal." I just think that's going to be really exciting to them.

Q: The teacher shortage is real. It’s an issue and it’s unavoidable, in all areas of Nebraska and beyond. It's cool to see things like this Future Educators’ Day that are taking it head on. Why is it time to start taking action? Why is it crucial to begin putting those words into motion and coming together and working collaboratively to put on events like this that recruit bright young students into the profession?

Dr. Skretta: I think the situation has grown pretty dire. And I think that one of the sad realities is that in education, we have historically operated from a perspective that if you just lower your head and do a good job and you just keep plotting forward, that that will always be enough. Just do good work and don't say anything about it.

Just keep forging ahead. Well, the reality is that we have to promote our profession. We have to elevate the visibility that the profession has. And we also have to counteract what is sometimes negative or critical messaging about the profession that's out there and that’s not always accurate. Sometimes there's misinformation that's out there about the profession of education. And so this is, I think, a logical means for us as an ESU to try to be part of the solution.

Q: And there are no issues, really, that you’ll skirt around today. Vicki Taylor, your business manager here at ESU 6, will end the day discussing teacher salary, for example.

Dr. Skretta: No, I think we have to own it straight up and acknowledge that this is what this looks like. And Vicki, at the end of the day, it'll be great because she's going to give them some specifics. For example, one of the things that can sometimes be a deterrent to people pursuing a career in education is they say, "Well, the salary. If I were to compare to the private marketplace..." Well, one should not consider salary in isolation apart from total compensation.

And one of the things that we can be proud of in education is that when total compensation is considered and you look at things like health insurance, there are some great benefits still to pursuing a career and committing to the vocation of education.