From “Grow Your Own” programs to mentoring, participants at NYSUT’s Take a Look at Teaching summit on Long Island explored ways to open doors — and hearts — to attract more people to the teaching profession.
In the seventh in a series of statewide summits, NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango cited alarming figures showing the teacher shortage is very real — and getting worse.
While enrollment in New York’s teacher education programs has declined by 53 percent since 2009, an estimated one-third of the state’s teachers could retire in the next five years.
To put it in perspective, DiBrango noted that the U.S. Department of Education recently identified 17 teacher shortage areas throughout New York, up from only two areas a decade ago.
“These are not just the predictable core subject areas like math, science, ELA and social studies,” DiBrango said. “Many of these are areas that support our most vulnerable population of students with very specialized needs.”
NYSUT’s initiative also focuses on the need for a more diverse education workforce. While 43 percent of the state’s student population is Hispanic/Latinx or African-American, only 16 percent of the teacher work force is.
DiBrango urged participants to brainstorm ways to improve the experiences of children while they are in school to ensure they will be attracted to the profession as adults.
“We have to ensure an educational experience for children that lifts them up and doesn’t mislabel them,” DiBrango said. “After all, if you have a negative experience in school, why would you want to come back and make a career in education?”
The Riverhead gathering included more than 150 students, teachers, administrators, college faculty, community representatives and State Education Department leaders, including Regent Roger Tilles.
SED Assistant Commissioner Anael Alston thanked NYSUT “for having the gumption” to take on the diversity issue.
“The funnel is broken when you talk about diversity in teaching,” Alston said. “There are 200 school districts that don’t have a single person of color in the teaching ranks ... We can’t be courageous and comfortable at the same time.”
Alston, who heads the state’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, highlighted the Teacher Opportunity Corps program on 16 college campuses. In addition to creatively recruiting diverse candidates, the program offers a 10-month intensive experience in area school districts and ongoing support because “their professor goes with them,” he said. With $3 million in current funding, there are about 500 candidates in the pipeline, Alston said, but the state could do much more with additional funding. He echoed NYSUT’s call for a $10 million investment in the proven program.
For the majority of the summit, participants worked in small groups to focus on solutions. In a group share, speakers called for starting much earlier to inspire the next generation of teachers.
“There’s so much more that has to happen early on, from the bottom up,” said Larry Street, an NAACP local leader who also substitute teaches in Riverhead. “We need to focus on the three P’s: personality, passion and perseverance.”
Roberta MacGray, a Family and Career Education teacher in Riverhead, suggested offering students a half-credit or full-credit independent studies course to give them some classroom experience. “That would allow them to work side by side with an experienced teacher and see if it’s something they’re interested in,” she said.
MacGray also suggested offering clubs as early as fourth grade to introduce students to a variety of careers, including teaching.
In addition to “pipeline clubs,” Bellport TA’s Wayne White suggested making more scholarships available. “Many unions give scholarships to kids pursuing a teaching degree,” he said. “That could be done by other community groups, too.”
Linda Condon, a teacher at Riverhead’s Aquebogue Elementary School, said students should be encouraged to follow their path even if it takes several years.
“Being a student who struggled myself, it took me a little longer,” she said. “Too many kids give up because they don’t see themselves finishing in four years.”
“We hope this summit will help open doors and change the narrative about teaching,” said Riverhead Central FA President Gregory Wallace. “It’s not just a job, it’s a true work of heart.”
A number of teacher preparation students at St. Joseph’s College urged veteran teachers to open their classrooms for meaningful fieldwork and supportive mentoring experiences.
Griselda Sagastume, an aspiring teacher at St. Joseph’s and Riverhead alum, made it clear there’s no greater recruiter than teachers themselves.
“I look out at this audience and see so many of my former teachers,” Sagastume said. “Thank you for inspiring me,” she said. “Because of you, I’m standing here today.”