In her more than two decades with Buffalo Public Schools, many people encouraged her to follow her passion.
She was a natural in the classroom, helping at-risk students understand their unique gifts and talents and pushing them to succeed. During her lunch hours, she hosted a literacy group for boys. As a union leader with the Buffalo Educational Support Team, she helped implement a mentor program for teaching assistants.
No question, Coleman knew teaching was her true calling.
Yet every time she thought about pursuing her dream, there were too many obstacles: family obligations, financial challenges, academic concerns and an already full schedule.
“I had the desire, but I just didn’t know how I could do it,” Coleman said.
But thanks to her union and a statefunded urban teacher pipeline program at Buffalo State College, Coleman is now on track to becoming a teacher. In June she was one of four BEST members who graduated with a bachelor’s degree en route to achieving full teacher certification.
Next, she’s pursuing a master’s degree and will start taking the state’s teacher certification exams.
“It’s going to be a long journey, but I know this is what I’m meant to do,” Coleman said. “Hey, it took me more than 30 years to finish my bachelor’s degree!” Coleman credited BEST President Jo Ann Sweat with recognizing the need for a career ladder for paraprofessionals — and encouraging her to start the climb.
“We keep talking about ‘Grow Your Own’ programs and having a more diverse work force,” Sweat said. “Who better to pick from than the people who are already here, already strongly committed to our schools and our kids?”
Buffalo State launched the Urban Teacher Pipeline program for teaching assistants and aides three years ago, with legislative funds provided by Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo. The funding allows undergraduate and graduate students to complete teacher education programs by taking two classes per semester at no cost. To support the needs of busy, nontraditional students, classes are conducted evenings, Saturdays and in both in-person and hybrid formats.
Students have regular contact with professors Hilary Lochte, Ph.D., and Sandra Washington-Copeland, Ph.D., who are both members of United University Professions at Buffalo State and serve as advisors and instructors in the program at the graduate and undergraduate level, respectively.
Professor Washington-Copeland “goes above and beyond for all of us,” Coleman said. “She’s like our mother hen, ensuring we have everything we need.”
NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango, who heads the union’s Take a Look at Teaching initiative, said programs like Buffalo’s are promising and should be expanded. “Some of the best teachers are former TA’s and aides,” DiBrango said. “They come with a wealth of experience, are invested in their community and serve as great role models for the students.”
Such programs can also help diversify the state’s teaching workforce, DiBrango noted. While students of color are 56 percent of enrollment statewide, just 19 percent of the teachers are. “We need to change that,” DiBrango said.