Mar. 23—DANVILLE — School officials locally have been innovative in filling teacher shortage openings and working with interested individuals.

Two first-time teachers at Danville High School have had years of substituting and coaching experience and now are using those skills in teaching Career and Technical Education classes.

Jason Whitaker, 44, teaches introduction to computers, introduction to computer applications, accounting and intro to business, and Blake Wadsworth teaches intro to business, computers, and sports and entertainment marketing.

Whitaker, who lives in Paris, Ill., is also in his first season coaching volleyball at DHS.

He previously was a production supervisor at a manufacturing facility in Marshall. He’d been there for more than 20 years.

He used his bachelor’s degree to become a substitute teacher. He’d substitute teach on weekdays and work weekends at his other job.

Whitaker was also previously the junior high boys’ basketball coach at Shiloh for four years.

He decided that he liked being around youths more than he liked supervising adults.

“I really enjoyed substitute teaching and then I decided to move full-time into teaching, and I saw that Danville had an opening for a business teacher,” Whitaker said.

When he was interviewing, sports was a topic of discussion and they saw Whitaker had coached. Whitaker also coached a youth basketball league in Paris for 12 years.

“So, I’ve been around coaching quite a bit, and I’ve coached baseball for a few years. My daughter played volleyball, I helped a little bit, but I’ve never really coached volleyball,” he said.

Due to the DHS openings, Whitaker thought he’d try volleyball.

“It’s been amazing,” Whitaker said. “The girls have been awesome.”

The last couple of years they only won a couple of games, but last season they tripled their wins.

“We’re getting ready to start in the next season,” he said.

To teach, Whitaker has a certification through the state of Illinois for his bachelor’s degree. He can teach entrepreneurship, accounting, business, computers, everything that flows within what he’s been doing for the past 20-some years.

He’s also currently getting his master’s degree to teach other things.

Whitaker said when he was subbing it was great, he had lesson plans for him and he kind of knew what he was doing.

Then, getting to start his own classroom and having a curriculum to be creative with and come up with new lessons, it’s been challenging, but fun, he said.

Whitaker said he’d recommend it to anyone thinking about going into an educational career.

He said he enjoyed learning from the students as they learned from him.

Students are signing up now for classes for the next school year. Class interest will determine what he teaches next school year.

Wadsworth, 32, is from Georgetown. He went to Danville Area Community College and played baseball there.

He got his undergraduate degree in recreation and park administration from Illinois State University. He also got his master’s degree from ISU in sports administration.

He worked at the Illinois High School Association and the University of Illinois in development and raised money for the school.

Wadsworth said COVID-19 changed things with his job and he worked at home. He wanted to do something different.

He liked playing baseball and wanted to get into coaching.

Wadsworth was at North Ridge Middle School last school year as a long-term substitute in PE. He said he found he liked it and wanted to pursue teaching, not knowing what he wanted to teach. He likes fitness and sports, and through the PE class, he gets experience in handling classes.

He started looking at specific areas in going back to school, but had already done six years in college.

He learned he could get his certification in whatever background he had, which was a master’s in sports administration. Due to his coursework, he ended up getting a business certification through the state.

“I’ve actually really enjoyed it,” Wadsworth said about teaching at DHS this school year.

He teaches introduction to computer applications, intro to business and he rotates semesters of business marketing and management, and sports marketing and entertainment.

He also coaches baseball at North Ridge.

Teaching, coaching

“It was definitely overwhelming to me at the very start,” Wadsworth said about coaching and teaching. “I had never coached before, and it was also my first time legitimately teaching and lesson planning.”

As he started coaching, the baseball season began before the start of school and he was traveling to practice and talk to parents and also learn to teach.

A couple weeks in, he got his feet under him and it got easier. Now, it’s fine, he said.

Whitaker said he first felt like he was just filling in, like he’d done for so many years, but that day he really started to think of himself as a full-time teacher was during parent-teacher conferences. He had parents come in to talk with him, and that was a new experience.

“That was when I was thinking, I’m actually a teacher,” Whitaker said. “That’s the day it hit me.”

Wadsworth said it’s not easy coming into the education field, but there are different opportunities.

In Wadsworth’s and Whitaker’s cases, they’ve worked in the community and business areas, and have knowledge in certain business models and that’s what their degrees are in. They don’t have teacher backgrounds with classroom management and lesson planning.

“To me, I feel like I’m growing in (classroom management and lesson planning), and I’ll continue to grow in that and I’ll have a handle on it,” Wadsworth said.

He said this is a good way to combat some teacher shortages.

It was a hard process to jump into education, Whitaker said, adding how he had to wait in the state for approval.

Coaching in junior high, Whitaker said he was used to the environment with the kids. Sports practice management is similar to classroom management in keeping students on task, working and involved.

“You learn those classroom management skills while you’re coaching,” Whitaker said. “You learn to teach them to work as a team; and in the classroom you want them to work together as a team and accomplish goals with group projects and individual projects and things like that.”

As Wadsworth was transitioning to this role, being grateful to be a teacher and coaching, he thought about all the coaches who had an impact on his life. He felt he had knowledge now to give back to others to help them succeed.

“To be able to coach and teach at the same time, is again, my whole reasoning behind it is just to be able to make an impact on youth,” Wadsworth said.

That’s his ultimate goal in both of those roles — helping student-athletes get better at the sport and continue to play, and get a life in place.

According to Dan Hile, DHS CTE department chairman, prospective career and technical educators in Illinois are afforded a dual opportunity for teacher licensure. The first is traditional teacher prep programs such as at Eastern Illinois University and Illinois State University leading to a Professional Educator License. The other is work experience and college coursework leading to an Educator License with Stipulations (ELS), formerly Vocational License.

Hile says he’s proud of Whitaker and Wadsworth.

“It was a very challenging first semester but they both showed up everyday, professionally approached their new teacher’s tasks and returned after winter break with a renewed vision for their students,” according to Hile.

Hile said in talking to their mentor, retired teacher Ted Houpt, Houpt too told him how proud he is of Whitaker and Wadsworth, saying that DHS is lucky to have them.

Whitaker and Wadsworth said Houpt was a great resource, and they could bounce ideas off of him.

Wadsworth said Houpt has helped them connect with other teachers to learn from them and watch them teach in the classroom.

Hile said there are six ELS teachers in CTE at DHS.

Whitaker and Wadsworth already had some proud moments in the classroom.

Whitaker said he was working with a group of students, one-on-one who were struggling a little bit, and across the room he heard one student helping a couple others. In that moment, he thought they, as teachers, were making a difference.

Wadsworth came up with a project to revamp a product and pitch their idea. A lot of the students were very creative and worked well as a group, he said. As a teacher, it’s not always easy to get students to really put their mind to things and see how they can improve something.

He says it’s a win in his book when he gets a quiet student to open up and feel comfortable talking to him.

In moving forward, Wadsworth and Whitaker said they wanted to provide skills to help students grow in college or if they’re going straight into a workforce environment.

“That’s the main thing I want kids to take away from my classes,” Wadsworth said.