“Increasing the diversity among our Connecticut teaching profession is crucial to the vitality, success, and the excellence of all of our schools,” CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas told legislators during a recent public hearing.
The legislature’s Education Committee is considering a new bill to improve minority teacher recruitment and retention by promoting the teaching profession as a career option to students in high school, requiring school district personnel responsible for hiring to complete implicit bias and anti-bias training, and establishing a minority candidate residency year program.
Nicholas shared that, through a grant received from NEA, CEA is working to grow future educator programs in middle and high schools modeled after West Hartford’s Future Educators of Diversity program.
“Having teachers of color improves the experience of students of all racial backgrounds,” Nicholas told legislators. “Some of the benefits of having teachers of color in front of our classrooms are the decreased dropout rates for students of color as well as decreases in the disciplinary actions for students of color. Having teachers of color increases achievement for students of color, especially if those students have had a teacher of color in front of them by the second grade.”
State Rep. Tammy Exum, a former elementary school teacher and West Hartford Board of Education vice chair, told Nicholas that she was glad to hear CEA is working to expand programs like West Hartford’s.
“It’s a wonderful example of being very intentional in growing a program and tapping into high schoolers who may not think of being educators and then having that experience and exposure,” she said. West Hartford students who go on to graduate from college with teaching degrees are guaranteed an interview with West Hartford Public Schools.
“We have had some of those students who went through the program get hired and work in the district, so it’s effective and it needs to be much bigger, much broader, so I’m really grateful to see this legislation before us,” Exum said.
Hiring and retaining
Nicholas told legislators that he would like to know the current count of Connecticut certified teachers of color who do not have a teaching job right now.
“As of two years ago, the count was nearly 600 teachers of color who are certified but did not have a teaching job,” Nicholas said. “That signifies to me that implicit bias is a huge problem in our retention and hiring practices.”
In written testimony, Westport literacy coach Faith Sweeney told legislators that she thinks there needs to be more attention in the bill given to retaining teachers of color.
“I work in a predominantly white community that is increasing in diversity as we speak. The importance of having the teaching population mirror the student population is vital. All students, Black and white, need to know how to interact with people that do not look like them, act like them, or speak like them,” Sweeney wrote.
“It is not enough to recruit a pool of teachers of color without the consideration of ways to retain teachers of color, especially in predominantly white communities where teachers of color often face racial tension, bias, and discrimination from their students, colleagues, and staff,” Sweeney continued.
Teacher residency program
“CEA also supports innovative teacher preparation programs that attract more aspiring teachers of color into our public schools–particularly when they assist aspiring teachers to meet high standards of certification and to address persistent institutional and financial barriers,” Nicholas said.
CEA has worked with CREC on such a program that is currently in its second year and provides financial support for teaching candidates as well as mentorship by teachers.
Ushawnda Mitchell, program coordinator of CREC’s Teacher Residency Program (TRP), told legislators, “The alternate route to elementary certification has been designed to address the many barriers the State of Connecticut has faced when it comes to diversifying its teaching staff. The program allows the candidates to earn a salary while completing the yearlong residency and guarantees the participants a position upon successfully completing the program. High quality teacher preparation is key to retention.”
Mitchell said that, as of September, the program will have put 25 new teachers of color into CREC classrooms. If the legislature provides funding for the program to expand from one site to four, the program could create an additional 60 teachers of color next year.
The CREC residency program continues support for participants into their first three years as classroom teachers and beyond, providing ongoing professional development and connection with fellow educators of color.
Mitchell reported that one of the first-year program participants, Cyemone Douglas, who is now in her first year of teaching, shared, “I am often asked why I wanted to join the TRP family. The answer is simple. TRP is a uniquely designed program that took a risk on 12 individuals of color. When I was finishing my residency, I instilled in my students the importance of taking risks. Taking risks is a starting place for change. History has taught us that without risk takers, history remains the same. TRP took a risk and now we have more teachers of color in our classrooms. More teachers of color that represent the students we serve, more teachers of color that bring a different perspective to educating the whole child.”