California State University Takes a Personalized Approach to Recruiting Minority Teachers

Posted By Derek Johnson on April 26, 2016 at 2:17 pm
California State University Takes a Personalized Approach to Recruiting Minority Teachers

Higher education has so many challenges, problems and obstacles of its own to overcome that it is sometimes easy to forget how large a role quality K-12 schooling plays in the average college student’s success. Quality teachers, in particular, can have a significant impact motivating, inspiring and guiding high school students and set them on the right path to whatever higher education experience is the best fit.

Many states are suffering from moderate to severe K-12 teacher shortages, particularly in STEM-related fields. It’s not that the profession lacks warm bodies to fill classrooms, per say, more than quality and qualified teachers are in short supply. Beyond that, minorities are substantially underrepresented in the teaching ranks. The vast majority of K-12 teachers are white, with black, Latino, Asian and other minority teachers making up just 18 percent of the nation’s teacher workforce for the 2011-12 school year, according to Department of Education data culled by the Center for American Progress.

California is the center for many of these nationwide trends, with the worst student-to-teacher ratio and one of the most diverse K-12 student populations in the nation. Layoffs during the Great Recession cut the total state teacher workforce by 80,000, and the state still needs to fill about 60,000 positions just to get back to pre-recession levels of employment. Now, a handful of California State University campuses are embarking on a pilot program to recruit a new generation of diverse applicants to fill those empty slots.

Teacher Corp

Teacher Corp is a program headed up by California State University to target, identify and encourage promising undergraduate students to consider a career in teaching. In particular, they are hoping to attract more teachers of color, on the premise of providing minority students with role models who look like them.

“It’s an ability to empathize with a student’s life experiences and people who can relate to the circumstances that their students are dealing with away from school,” says Dr. Ken Futernick, professor of education at California State University and the head of Teacher Corp.

Futernick has spent years researching teacher recruitment and retention issues in K-12 education. He takes issue with the way most teacher recruitment programs operate, relying on public relations and mass communication to reach as broad an audience as possible. By not taking a more targeted approach and emphasizing the raw number of open teaching slots that need to be filled, Futernick believes that these programs can actually further discourage college students from pursuing a degree in teaching.

“I think the message you send when you say that is it almost conveys a sense of desperation. Why would anyone want to go into a field with those kind of shortages?” says Futernick. “There are reasons for that, but I think the message with mass public relations campaigns is that there might be something wrong with the profession.”

Futernick has set up Teacher Corp to be different, working with partner schools to empower professors at the classroom level to identify and reach out to individual students who demonstrate qualities and characteristics in the classroom that translate to the teaching world. Students deemed by their professors to have high aptitudes in a particular subject, successfully build relationships and communicate well with their peers are nominated as prospective candidates. From there, students are contacted by the program and encouraged to consider a career in teaching, explore their potential as a classroom leader and (eventually) sign up for teacher credentialing courses.

“We’re really relying on professors to name prospective teaching candidates that they think are promising,” says Futernick.

Steve Price, director of community-based learning and coordinator for Teacher Corp at CSU’s Fresno campus, says that officials are hoping that running the nomination process through university professors will provide a personal touch that separates Teacher Corp from other recruitment programs.

“You’ve been nominated, someone said you should participate because you have great characteristics for teaching,” explains Price.

While the focus will be on diversifying the pool of qualified teachers in the state, Price says that should not prevent the program from attaining its other goal of recruiting enough quality candidates to make a dent in the state’s teacher shortage.

“Over half of our campus is minority and close to half of the students are Hispanic. So when we do anything on this campus, we’re going to be recruiting a diverse group,” says Price.

Changing the narrative

Teacher Corp is currently in its pilot phase, and organizers are planning for the first cohort of prospective candidates to be identified and contacted during the Spring semester on five California State University campuses. In addition to being personally contacted by professors and faculty, the program also arranges events and gatherings where prospective candidates can dialogue with each other, get advice from current teachers in the field and hear positive stories about the impact of teaching. Celebrating teaching and changing what both Futernick and Price refer to as “the negative narrative” around the profession is also a big part of the program.

“[Students] think becoming a teacher is kind of a second class profession,” says Price. “It’s like that old saying ‘if you can’t do something, teach it.’ All of that has a negative impact on students.

This narrative may particularly impact prospective minority teachers, who tend to be disproportionately affected by the some of the more dysfunctional elements of the K-12 education system. And the idea that diversifying the teaching population can lead to better educational outcomes for minorities is not a wild-eyed theory. Studies have shown that there is a small but significant boost in academic achievement when minority students are matched with teachers from their own race and background. In addition, researchers believe increasing diversity within the teacher workforce can shatter preconceived notions of glass ceilings among students from minority backgrounds.

When minority students see someone at the blackboard that looks like you, it helps you reconceive what’s possible for you,” Thomas S. Dee, a professor of education at Stanford University, says in an interview with the New York Times.

Futernick hopes that Teacher Corp will eventually lead to an increase in the number of graduates statewide applying for teacher prep courses through the California Commission for Teacher Credentialing. Because the program intentionally targets students early in their college careers, it may take time to see if the approach is succeeding in its goal. “We won’t know the answer to that for a couple years because many of the people we’re targeting are not in a position to apply immediately,” he says.

Derek Johnson
Derek Johnson is a writer, journalist and editor based out of Virginia. He received a Master’s degree in Public Policy at George Mason University and a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University.

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