Last month, 24 teachers and school leaders, mostly NCTE members and ranging from early childhood educators to high school technology coaches, gathered at NCTE Headquarters in Urbana, Illinois to share their concerns. They were joined by one of the US Department of Education’s Teacher Ambassadors, Matt Presser, a literacy instructional coach from New Haven, Connecticut, who was in town as part of the Secretary of Education’s annual Back-to-School Bus Tour. (See the third blog, Barriers to Innovation and Improvement. )
Many of the schools in the communities the teachers serve have a majority of students of color and large numbers of students for whom English is not their native language. In contrast, the vast majority of educators in these schools are white. Many of the teachers pointed to a need to develop an educational workforce that better reflects the makeup of the students it serves.
Students share this concern. In Laura Koritz’ social justice class at Urbana High School, students researched the lack of teacher diversity. Because most teachers in the district were trained at the University of Illinois, the students examined the demographics of students within the teacher education program there and found the same lack of diversity they observed in their school. Noting that many students in the program came from the region, they surveyed their peers, asking them if they were interested in becoming teachers and coming back to their hometown to teach, and, if not, why not.
Most of the students who expressed such an interest looked like the existing staff of the school. Students who could contribute to diversifying it explained their reluctance to embark on a career in education by citing many of the same issues teachers highlighted throughout the night: a punitive, test-driven environment, scarcity of resources, low pay, and lack of respect.
NCTE recognizes that the educator workforce does not reflect the diversity of students they are teaching today, as reflected in its resolution “to expand its efforts to recruit, guide, and retain ethnically and culturally diverse group members, for example, Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and American Indian, who might enter the English language arts teaching profession.” Other NCTE position statements demonstrate the organization’s resolve to recognize students’ right to their own language, assign diverse literature and respect all students, no matter their background.
One of the ways NCTE is working to improve the professional environment for all teachers and to ensure that all students, particularly those in groups that have been historically underserved, are taught be excellent teachers is through its participation in the Coalition for Teaching Quality. NCTE is working with Coalition members from over 100 other educational organizations across the United States to develop and put into practice a Profession Ready Framework. The Framework charts a path for teacher and principal growth throughout their careers, beginning with recruitment and training, proceeding through induction into professional community as practicing educators, and proceeding to demonstration of mastery (such as through National Board Certification) and substantive opportunities for leadership.
The teachers who assembled at NCTE’s Urbana office, on their own time and at relatively short notice, made a powerful statement about how we ought to transform educational policy to better support literacy learning. Not only will the Teacher Ambassador carry that message back to Washington, but NCTE staff and members will do so throughout the year.