March 11, 2021

Take a Look at Teaching conference highlights power of partnerships

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Caption: The conference's closing panel discussion on "Diversifying the Teacher Workforce."

Sometimes the call to teaching requires a nudge — and a little extra nurturing.

Hundreds of educators, policymakers and community members gathered for an online discussion this week on how K-12, higher ed and community partnerships can inspire the next generation of teachers and diversify the workforce.

The Power of Partnerships conference, co-sponsored by NYSUT, United University Professions, SUNY and the New York State Education Department, showcased a wide variety of promising programs, from “Grow Your Own” initiatives to hands-on teacher prep fellowships.

“Our goal today is to have you leave here with some inspiration and new partners to join us in this important work,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango. “We believe that by working together we will help shape the next generation of passionate educators and create a more just and equitable system for all students.”

Regents Board Chancellor Lester Young said it is crucial to ramp up recruitment and retention efforts to diversify the educator workforce and ensure that the students have caring, committed and skilled teachers. “We are in an incredible moral moment,” he said. “What we do will impact generations.”

Regent Roger Tilles, who represents Long Island, noted the state’s teacher shortage and equity issues have only grown more urgent. “Even before the pandemic, we had a crushing teacher shortage and lack of diversity,” Tilles said.

The online conference was the latest in a series of Take a Look at Teaching events to share ideas and encourage partnerships. NYSUT began the initiative three years ago, noting that New York is facing declining enrollment in teacher education programs, increased retirements and severe shortages in difficult-to-staff subject areas and districts, both urban and rural.

At the same time, the education workforce does not reflect the diversity of the state’s student population. While students of color comprise 56 percent of total enrollment, teachers of color represent only 19 percent of the workforce.

The conference included breakout groups where participants discussed several innovative programs to give teacher prep students extra support and real-world experiences.

Tim Dobbertin and Kara Reidy-Vedder of Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES explained how their Teacher Immersion Fellowship program has given area college students excellent field experience by placing them in area school districts as paid substitute teachers. The program began in 2016 with seven SUNY Brockport student “fellows” scheduled one to five days a week as full-time substitutes at Hilton School District. In just a short time, with state funding provided through BOCES cost-sharing, the program has grown this year to include nine higher ed partners, 27 participating local school districts and 120 student fellows.

“We provide plenty of support and it helps you get your feet wet,” Reidy-Vedder said. To increase diversity, Reidy-Vedder has talked up the program with college career centers, first-generation college student programs and groups like Black student unions.

Stony Brook University has a similar program where teacher prep students work as substitutes in four area school districts. This not only helps students earn money, but it gives them additional hands-on experience before their traditional student teaching placement, said Terry Earley, a UUP member and director of teacher and leader education at Stony Brook University. Students are able to discuss any issues that come up during their subbing work as part of their methods course — and make valuable connections in the field.

Tara Tolan of Questar III in the Capital Region discussed her Pathways in Education New Visions course that enables high school students to earn nine college credits and take the state’s Teaching Assistant certification exam. Students shadow teachers in their home district to the point where they actually teach a lesson, said Tolan, a member of Rensselaer-Columbia-Greene BOCES TA.

“It can give them tremendous insight,” she said. “A student might think they want to teach high school social studies, but after an authentic experience, they completely change their mind. Ordinarily they might not find that out until student teaching,” she said.

Jessica Nolan of Half Hollow Hills talked about an Exploring Teaching course, which is a high school elective offered in her district. The course exposes students to a variety of options in the education field beyond teaching, including school counseling, social work, occupational and speech therapy.

“The goal is to expose them to as much as possible,” she said, noting students shadow teachers and volunteer in a special education classroom for students with autism. The hands-on work can be eye-opening. For some, the experience inspires a student to enthusiastically pursue a career in education. For others, she said, a day shadowing a teacher prompts some students to conclude, “Whoa, this is hard work!”

For more about NYSUT’s Take a Look at Teaching initiative, go to takealookatteaching.org.

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