by Mary McGriff, Ed.D.
New Jersey City University
September 2, 2015
Charleston. Chattanooga. Harris County. When it comes to current events, this has certainly been a tragic and tumultuous summer. And, on so many fronts, the morning news appears to grow more concerning…more complex. It seems that now more than ever, children (and adults) need the ability to understand multiple viewpoints. They need to be able to objectively assess competing perspectives, including those they disagree with. They need to be able to interrogate and evaluate their own positions in light of alternative ones. In short, they need to be able to read critically.
As literacy educators, we already know that the types of texts and literacy experiences that students encounter in school go a long way in building critical habits of mind. However, I was especially heartened to read Melinda Anderson’s recent piece in The Atlantic that took this a step further by calling for greater diversity among classroom teachers. In this article, Anderson chronicles how an African-American teacher offered his predominantly white class new perspectives, disrupted one-sided portrayals of current and historical events, and on balance, incorporated ideas and related learning experiences that his students had never experienced before. Anderson calls for cultural diversity within the teacher workforce as a means of introducing students to a greater breadth of perspectives, of actively countering limited and derogatory views, and of cultivating a positive and productive appreciation for our common humanity. “Easy for a journalist to say,” I thought. Yet, after some investigation, I was quite encouraged to realize that there are range of current policies that, directly or indirectly, lend themselves to this very effort. So, now that the fall semester is upon us, it seems an appropriate time to take a look at some of the policies, programmatic initiatives, and supporting research that propel this effort and support our work in fostering a culturally diverse body of teachers. Here are just a few.
Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation -- Standard 3.1
CAEP’s Standard 3.1 calls for teacher education programs to develop “plans and goals to recruit and support completion of high-quality candidates from a broad range of backgrounds and diverse populations to accomplish their mission.” CAEP’s rationale for this requirement highlights the benefits that accrue to students when they have teachers whose cultural backgrounds match their own. Yet, while the advantages extend well beyond this one focus, CAEP provides their member institutions with an explicit mandate to recruit and support a diverse body of teacher candidates. Ultimately, that will benefit all students….and all school communities.
Minority Recruitment Programs
Recognizing that greater diversity among teaching staffs better prepares students to participate in our global society, several states and county-level educational support offices have developed minority recruitment initiatives. These are designed to assist districts in crafting minority teacher hiring policies and procedures. Representative among these is Connecticut’s Capitol Region Education Council Minority Teacher Recruiting Program. Alternatively, some state departments of education such as those in Florida, Indiana and Illinois offer competitive scholarships to students who major in education.
Whether focusing on needs of nonwhite students or more broadly on the greater societal benefits that a diverse teacher workforce afford, there appears to be little disagreement that greater teacher diversity is required. However long standing sociohistorical inequities make the recruitment of minorities to our field easier said than done. Consider the following complications:
· 66% of African-American ACT test takers scored beneath the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in English in 2014.1
· 53% of Hispanic ACT test takers scored beneath the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in English in 2014.2
· The majority of first generation college students are African-American or Hispanic, and by virtue of this designation, are at greater risk of dropping out.3
In this context, recruiting and retaining a diverse body of teacher candidates means expanding the pool of minority students that can enter college prepared for its academic demands and that can meet CAEP’s rigorous teacher education program admissions standards. As literacy educators, we have important roles to play in supporting college and career readiness. I like to think of these as ranging from the decisions we make in our own P- 12, school-based work with teachers to the broader habits of mind we model in relation to cultural and linguistic responsiveness.
Growing a Diverse Candidate Pool through College and Career Readiness Initiatives
Since not all practicing teachers return to our campuses for graduate study, university – school partnerships offer an ideal means of establishing productive professional relationships with teachers in area schools. Federal funds for school-based, college and career readiness initiatives are generously incorporated into the Department of Education’s proposed 2016 budget, and these include a $1 billion increase in Title I grants and $125 million for a new Next Generation High Schools program. These monies offer funding opportunities for professional development to address the readiness gaps described above. In addition to building teachers’ knowledge and skills for literacy instruction, The Next Chapter: Literacy within ESEA report specifically identifies teachers’ low expectations as a dispositional contributors to low achievement among low-income students, English learners and other students who read below grade level. Maintaining high expectations for learners is, in fact, a complex matter that involves an inquiry-focused approach toward teaching, knowledge of and subscription to culturally responsive pedagogical approaches, and on-going systemic support. Whether novice or veteran, teachers benefit when we model how high expectations for students can be sustained on a day-to-day basis, regardless of home language and culture, income level or family composition. Modeling an inquiry-focused approach to our own practice and offering scaffolded opportunities for teachers to refine these dispositional and pedagogical practices for themselves will go a long way toward achieving this end.
Welcoming the Fall
In light of these opportunities, now has never been a better time to work with practicing and prospective teachers. Now has never been a better time to be a literacy teacher educator. Welcome to a new semester!
Join us on Friday, November 6, 2015 from 3:00 – 4:25 pm.
During the 2015 ALER Annual Conference, the Legislative and Social Issues Committee will host the symposium, Dream keepers and Gatekeepers: Examining Issues of Access, Diversity and Literacy in Teacher Education. This program will provide ALER members with a comprehensive examination of literacy instruction as it impacts teacher preparation and student learning. Please look for an announcement specifying the room assignment for this symposium as soon as it becomes available.
1-2. ACT Condition of College & Career Readiness Report (2014). ACT, Inc. Iowa City, IA. Retrieved from http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/cccr14/index.html
3. Engle, J. (2007). Postsecondary Access and Success for First-Generation College
Students.” American Academic. 3. 2007. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_academic/index.htm