New pathways for teachers of color

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For students and families alike, seeing school reflect their identities and experiences is important. A key part is who’s in front of the classroom.

Last week, the Daily Planet’s Sheila Regan attended a meeting between the Parents of African American Students Advisory Council (PAASAC) and Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) representatives including board members and a top district administrator. One parental concern was teacher diversity. While Saint Paul’s teaching corps may be the most diverse in the state, roughly five out of every six teachers are white.

Regan quoted one school board member saying, “We need more teachers of color…. I would like suggestions about how to do that.”

As it turns out, multiple efforts are already underway. The Pioneer Press recently covered the Future Educators program, which it accurately described as “part of a broader teachers union push to cultivate talented teachers — especially teachers of color — from within.”

That broader push is the CareerTeacher initiative, developed by the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) between 2009 and 2011 using a $250,000 grant from the national-level American Federation of Teachers. (Full disclosure: I worked as a researcher for SPFT, but after CareerTeacher was developed.) CareerTeacher includes the Future Educators program; partnerships with local colleges and universities; and an alternative licensure program, which has been waiting for a superintendent’s signature since 2011.

In the meantime, SPFT’s new contract for educational assistants (EAs), many of whom are educators of color, provides 10 EAs with $2000 stipends for teaching degrees and offers paid leave when student teaching.

Elsewhere, the Minneapolis Public Schools have also revived a union idea to help EAs pursue teaching degrees. Their program will be run through the University of Minnesota, which is making its first foray into alternative licensure this year with Teach For America (who also have more teachers of color than average). Other districts have also explored similar programs.

As SPFT President Mary Cathryn Ricker says, “We understand the value of diversifying our profession from a student, community and colleague perspective, which is why we’ve worked so hard, with the help of the AFT Innovation Fund, to implement every promising practice our members come up with. Although it is disappointing that the Board of Education won’t partner with us, that will not stop us from making progress in diversifying teaching however we can.”

So, if any school district is looking for suggestions about how to diversify teaching, they might try talking to their local union.