March 08, 2019

TAKE A LOOK AT TEACHING: Rochester roundtables focus on how to grow and diversify profession

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source:  NYSUT Communications
take a look at teaching
Caption: SUNY Brockport student Abigail St. Denis and Monroe 1 BOCES United Employees Co-President Andrew Jordan offer suggestions to improve teacher recruitment. Photo by Dan Cappellazzo.

One Monroe County Community College student explained how a “buddies” program when she was in high school piqued her interest in a career as a future school counselor. Another suggested bringing teacher-education college students into middle and high schools to expose youngsters to role models. While one teaching veteran recalled the only recruiting he remembered in high school was for the Army — and suggested that, maybe, a similar type of marketing campaign is needed to get more students to consider a career in education.

All were ideas batted around at NYSUT’s “Take a Look at Teaching” summit at Monroe Community College Downtown Campus Thursday night, the third in a series of events being held around the state to talk about ways to inspire a new generation to become teachers and help diversify the profession. The Rochester regional meeting included students, teachers, administrators and college faculty, as well as State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, to discuss ways to address the looming teacher shortage.

The union launched the series of summits last fall to help address the national shortage that is already hitting New York in difficult-to-staff subject areas and high-needs districts — in both urban and rural schools. Enrollment in New York’s teacher education programs has declined by 47 percent since 2009. At the same time, the state Teachers’ Retirement System projects that one-third of the state’s teachers could retire in the next five years.

“As we hold these summits, solutions are emerging,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango. “At the same time, we’re making important connections and building sustainable partnerships between K-12 and higher education.”

For example, out of conversations at the January summit at Kenmore Middle School, DiBrango said the West Seneca School District has formed a partnership with Buffalo State’s Teaching Fellowship program, which gives teacher prep students valuable pre-career experience as they serve as substitute teachers in local schools. With the statewide shortage of substitute teachers, this could be a model program that could be replicated around the state, she said.

take a look at teaching
NYSUT Vice President Jolene DiBrango welcomes educators and students to the summit. Photo by Dan Cappellazzo.

DiBrango and Monroe County Community College Faculty Association President Bethany Gizzi guided participants Thursday through roundtable discussions on how educators and policymakers can support students on their path to teaching — and remove impediments. After about an hour of discussion, each table reported out their top two or three takeaways.

Of the many suggestions offered, several revolved around providing more opportunities for young people to work with kids, such as mentoring, shadowing and after-school activities.

“We need to get to them early and give them opportunities to see what a powerful thing it is to be in a classroom,” said SUNY Brockport’s Dawn Jones. “We need to talk positively and powerfully about the teaching profession.”

In discussions about barriers, several suggested removing the 3.0 grade point average requirement, saying it can be an unfair stumbling block for candidates who might otherwise be an excellent teacher.

College students talked about the many financial hurdles, including the expense of taking multiple certification exams and the difficulty of graduating on time. Several of the SUNY Brockport students talked about the “invisible costs” associated with student teaching, including everything from transportation to wardrobe expenses. One said, “the invisible cost is not invisible when you’re standing at the gas pump.”

Other suggestions included “grow-your-own” initiatives; incentives for paraprofessionals; marketing to pre-K and early childhood workers; advocating for a Tier 7 “that’s a little less harsh,” and financial support to help educators get their state-required master’s degree.

The next “Take a Look at Teaching” summit will be March 26 at SUNY Potsdam.