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The nation desperately needs a next generation of diverse and excellent teachers. In New York State, for example, 180,000 new teachers are needed over the next decade, and the majority are expected to be teachers of color. Research suggests that student test scores, attendance, and even suspension rates are positively affected by having a diverse faculty of teachers. Encouragingly, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Governor Kathy Hochul recently put forward proposals to recruit more candidates to this great profession.
In my nearly 20 years of experience in education, working closely with hundreds of teachers and schools, I have seen firsthand the need for these kinds of reforms. As President of Relay Graduate School of Education, I have seen that it is possible to recruit and prepare talented, effective, and diverse teachers. We prepare nearly 1,500 new teachers a year for New York public schools. Seventy percent of our graduating students are people of color – a crucial group of new teachers, mentors and role models for the state’s children, the majority of whom are children of color. With a few thoughtful additions, the approaches proposed by Hochul and Cardona could not only increase the number of teachers entering the profession, but also address the long-standing challenges of diversifying those who lead the country’s classrooms. Doing so requires focusing on three areas: support, cost and removing barriers.
Support. Teaching residency programs, like those in medicine, provide new practitioners with hands-on training for a year, working with a mentor to develop the knowledge, skills, and mindset of great teachers. Residencies show promising results in terms of the diversity of candidates they attract, the retention of these teachers in the profession, and the learning outcomes of their students.
In New York, for example, Ed Prep is a residency program that offers paraprofessionals, teacher assistants, and parent coordinators a path to becoming teachers. Almost all graduates of this “build your own” approach are people of color, and 100% are already engaged education professionals in the communities in which they will ultimately serve as teachers.
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New teachers, especially educators of color joining a predominantly white profession, also need the support of peers and mentors. In partnership with the Georgia Power Foundation, Relay launched an affinity group for black male teachers that is in its enthusiastic second year. Participants called it a sacred space to connect with others who share their experiences and address common challenges. In his research on black teacher candidates, Travis Bristol, an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, found that such affinity groups are invaluable for having candid conversations, building community, and solve problems. Also known as employee resource groups in the corporate world, these cohorts are associated with increased retention and job satisfaction.
Cost. Teachers should be paid more, which both Hochul’s plan and Cardona’s call to action acknowledge. But there are also other ways to ease the financial burden on teachers, such as reducing or eliminating the cost of training to ensure they don’t start their careers with unrealistic debt. Reducing the cost of entry can be achieved in several ways. The New York City Department of Education subsidizes tuition for participants in teacher residency programs, as do many charter schools. Tennessee fully funds tuition for its “build your own” teacher preparation programs, and Atlanta Public Schools uses a grant to cover tuition for men of color who are currently education paraprofessionals. special.
Beyond supporting tuition, districts can prioritize integrating their residency programs into their long-term funding model. For example, the Colonial School District in Delaware worked with the paraprofessional union to create a pathway to education that allows them to keep their full pay and benefits. Previously, paraprofessionals who wanted to enter the residency program had to resign and take a different position with lower pay.
Eliminate barriers. Finally, it is essential to remove the illogical barriers that prevent otherwise successful teacher candidates from entering the field. Although high standards of teacher knowledge and skills must be met, there is evidence that current monitoring systems do not do so in a way that predicts student success in learning. Shift to multiple pathways to show content expertise, reduce focus on tests that don’t correlate with academic achievement (and disproportionately exclude teachers of color), and review experiences and outcomes children with early-career teachers are all huge improvements.
Research and our own experience at Relay prove that there are promising ways to do this work and make an impact. Recruiting and retaining 180,000 teachers will take more than the three solutions I propose here, but it would be a good start. The country cannot afford to throw people into the classroom and hope for the best teachers bankrupt or leave promising candidates in the cold because of bureaucratic and invalid bridges. Putting the needs of teachers first can make schools places where they want to work. And approaching work in this way can also help diversify the profession to better serve all students.
Dr. Mayme Hostetter is president of the Relay Graduate School of Education.
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