Connecticut continues to grow its number of teachers of color thanks to the Teacher Residency Program that was celebrated at a news conference today with Governor Ned Lamont at Northend Elementary School in New Britain. A unique program that began at CREC with CEA support and helps noncertified school staff with bachelors degrees in earning their certification, it is now becoming a statewide program with a cohort of 44 this year and hopes to enroll 60-80 future educators next year.
Lisa Cordova, CREC Education Association President and CEA Board of Directors member, has been involved in advocating for the program since its beginnings and spoke at the press conference today.
“It is well known that there is not enough diversity in the teaching force,” she said. “CEA strongly supports innovative teacher preparation programs that help aspiring teachers meet high standards of certification and at the same time address persistent institutional and financial barriers that may impede their dreams of becoming an educator.”
The Teacher Residency Program is unique in that it provides future educators with 18 months of hands-on training in a mentor teacher’s classroom, classes led by classroom teachers, and a stipend so that participants can afford to take part. Ninety-eight percent of this year’s cohort are people of color.
The program started at CREC with 11 teachers in the first cohort and 14 teachers in the second cohort. This year the program has expanded to other RESCs, and next year will open up to Alliance Districts around the state that want to take part. Many districts have already expressed interest.
Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, who spoke at the press conference, applauded the program that supports future teachers of color. “Many of the people I worked with, their mother was a teacher, their grandmother—so they saw someone in their family that could map out the blueprint for them. For me, even though all I ever wanted to be was a teacher, I got so much bad information on the front end. I took so many classes that I didn’t need. I found myself starting over and over again—so to have this completely mapped out is tremendous. To have 18 months of practical experience is something that is invaluable—most teacher go through their whole program and do 10 weeks at the end of student teaching. To be able to get practical experience and ask questions in real time is what teachers want.”
She continued, “I wish I had someone at the beginning of my journey to hold my hand and walk me through. I became a good teacher because I was a really bad teacher. I made a whole lot of mistakes and had to do things over and reach out and ask questions. I didn’t have the network of support that I needed at the front end of my career. But we have a unique opportunity to make sure that doesn’t happen to other teachers. To make sure, when you’re two or three months in and thinking, ‘Did I make a mistake?’ To make sure that when a lesson bombs, and you’re ready to leave the classroom for good, that there’s someone there to say, ‘No, no, this is par for the course.'”
Hayes has taken her passion for diversifying and strengthening the teaching profession to Congress, where she hopes there will be a vote in the next weeks on President Biden’s Build Back Better bill. “There’s a billion dollars in there for teacher pipeline programs to do exactly what is being done here in the State of Connecticut. You can’t just talk about the need for these programs without putting the resources and supports in place.”
“With every cohort, the program gets stronger,” Cordova said. “This cohort is in a much better place because we saw what didn’t work, tweaked it, and made it stronger.”
Cordova said the program’s big strengths are its focus on high quality mentor teachers and having classroom teachers lead the program’s classes. One area that she and others saw where past cohorts needed more support was in studying for the certification test. “The CREC Education Association is now working to implement a one-on-one tutoring program to ensure residents’ success in passing the test,” she said.
Cordova is delighted to see the program growing and reaching more potential educators, but she says more must be done to keep these teachers in disadvantaged school districts long-term. Participants must commit to teaching in a given district for three years after receiving their certification, but Cordova fears that, after that commitment is up, teachers will leave for wealthier districts nearby that can pay significantly higher salaries.
Governor Lamont, Education Committee Co-Chairs Senator Douglas McCrory and Rep. Robert Sanchez, and Education Committee member Rep. William Petit, applauded the success that the program is having in recruiting teachers of color, saying that all children should see themselves reflected in their teachers.
“It’s been a tough year and a half,” Governor Lamont said. “Kids are here in school and they need a friend, counselor, and mentor—and we need that more than ever. We need to work hard to attract teachers, recruit teachers.”
Hayes thanked all the partners who have made the program possible. “Now I can say that, in my family, we went from me being a high school dropout to being a second generation college-educated family, and with my daughter also being a teacher. So it not only changes people, it changes families, and generations—and education is our best shot at getting it right.”