Finding tomorrow’s teachers starts with today’s high school students.
That’s the philosophy behind one program under NYSUT’s Take a Look at Teaching initiative.
Since 2019, TALAT’s “Grow Your Own” grant program has funded 43 district programs aimed at engaging, educating and mentoring the next generation of teachers. The union-led effort is supported by a $675,000 three-year grant from the National Education Association, one of NYSUT’s national affiliates.
“We are proud of NYSUT’s Take a Look at Teaching initiative. Our grants are making a difference right now in addressing the educator shortage by working to diversify and strengthen our educator pipeline. Research shows that ‘Grow Your Own’ programs work, and we hope our initiative will lead to more sustainable GYO programs across the state,” said Jolene DiBrango, NYSUT executive vice president.
At Patchogue-Medford, the GYO program is putting prospective teachers right in local classrooms to work with children and mentor with teachers.
“We want to take our students and make them teachers for future generations,” said Kevin Toolan, president of the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers. Toolan helped write the grant that funds the $5,000-a-year GYO program at Patchogue-Medford School District, which includes provisions to train future teachers and make college more accessible.
Juniors and seniors at Patchogue-Medford High School can earn up to three college credits by taking the Childhood Development and Education (CDE) course, which includes fieldwork at local elementary and middle schools. There, the high school “student teachers” help prep activities, observe lessons — and find their “why.”
“They’re coming because they like working with children, but we all know that it’s so much more. You need another ‘why’ for it to stick,” said Teresa Perez, CDE teacher and Patchogue-Medford CT member. To that end, she introduces her students to educators from a variety of disciplines — from school counselors to athletic coaches.
In her latest cohort of 25 students, she has several who have expressed interest in English as a New Language, based on their own personal experience as bilingual learners. “We’re in this time where you have to be really passionate about teaching to do well, and to have their eyes opened to all the roles that you can take within the field of teaching is really important for them to see,” Perez explained.
The Patchogue-Medford program is working toward having students finish high school with a teaching assistant certification. “My goal is to see children who cannot afford to go to college, graduate from high school, start working as TAs, and put themselves through college,” Toolan said.
Maine-Endwell Central School District is in the second year of its GYO program, too. This program includes two courses, Foundations of American Education and So You Want to be an Educator, worth a total of 6 college credits. The first course requires students to log 30 hours of classroom observation. “We try to get them as many opportunities to get in the building, working with the teachers and students, before they’re even student teaching,” said Bridget Wilson, GYO instructor and a member of the Maine-Endwell Teachers Association.
“It is the equivalent to an internship before having made a commitment to the profession,” said Patricia Sergent, Maine-Endwell TA president. This in-classroom instruction reinforces students’ desire to be teachers, she continued. “The most valuable aspect of our TALAT program is the positive messages that students considering teaching receive about the teaching profession. No one can share the experiences that teachers encounter unless they have actually taught,” she said.
Research supports the efficacy of programs like these, too. A study by the Pathways to Teaching Career initiative found that retention rates tend to be higher for GYO participants; of the teachers who participated in GYO programs, 81 percent were still teaching three years later, compared to 71 percent of beginning teachers overall.
Both programs also offer students the opportunity to visit local colleges and learn more about their education programs. Students in Maine-Endwell also become members of the Southern Tier Teaching Collaborative, where they can meet and network with other high schoolers in similar GYO programs that are funneling into the same colleges.
While the program is still new, Wilson reports that it has already yielded promising results. “I don’t have any students on the fence about teaching,” she said. “They’re all in it for the right reasons — they love it.”