Charles Ford was busy taking cosmetology classes and participating in student government at his local community college last fall when a teacher and the college president floated an idea he’d never thought about.
Would he consider a teaching career?
J.F. Drake State Community and Technical College in Huntsville, Alabama, is partnering with nearby Athens State University in a new effort to address Alabama’s critical teacher shortage by recruiting members of the most underrepresented group in teaching ranks — African-American men.
So now, instead of studying salon management, Ford is completing general education classes at Drake in preparation for a transfer to Athens State and its college of education, where the 30-year-old father of four children plans to study early childhood education. He is one of 16 students on the two campuses to form the inaugural class of the Minority Male Pathway Initiative.
“I’m really anxious, in a good way, to see how it’s going to unfold,” Ford said. “Just considering being a teacher is new to me. But I think it’s exciting because it’s going to be a benefit to this community.”
Outreach and inreach
The partnership between Drake and Athens is unusual in its focus on black men. But around the country, community colleges are stepping up efforts to address the demand for teachers, often collaborating with four-year schools to get graduates into classrooms as seamlessly as possible.
“We are strengthening and redesigning our outreach and our inreach,” said Isabel O’Connor, vice president of instruction at San Diego Mesa College, which is partnering with two nearby universities to prepare more teachers, especially for math and science classes, special education and bilingual education.
By outreach, O’Connor is referring to her school’s efforts to connect with students in the San Diego Unified School District. By inreach, she means finding students already on her campus who might be open to teaching careers. They may be taking math and science classes, for instance, but haven’t decided what to do with them.
Educators say community colleges, with their local enrollments and focuses, are natural training grounds for future teachers.
“Teacher labor markets are hyperlocal, with most teachers choosing to work within 15 miles of their hometowns,” the Center for American Progress pointed out in a recent report.
Renee Marshall, statewide representative for the California Community Colleges Teacher Preparation Programs, said research shows about 60 percent of the state’s teachers have a connection with a community college.
“We’ve traditionally thought that for teacher preparation you go straight to a four-year college,” she said. “But we’ve found that a lot of students who are considering being teachers actually spend a few years at a community college.”
Universities, businesses and state leaders all are looking to community colleges to keep the nationwide teacher shortage from becoming even more acute.
According to the Center for American Progress report, overall enrollment in teacher preparation programs decreased by more than one third from 2008 to 2017, while the number of students enrolling in bachelor’s degree programs increased over that period. Low pay, stressful working conditions and a perceived lack of career pathway opportunities are driving students from the profession.
Marshall thinks community colleges can overcome some of those obstacles.
“We can play a significant role in retaining teachers, helping with professional development and partnering with our local districts and offices of education,” she said.
Community colleges and collaborating universities are trying a variety of strategies to interest students in teaching careers.
In North Carolina, East Carolina University in Greenville is reaching out to nontraditional students by expanding “Partnership Teach,” a collaboration with community colleges to offer online instruction and internships to students pursuing teaching careers.
“We have been able to help a lot of working moms and dads, single moms and dads, military spouses – nontraditional students who need to be in their home communities but want to become a teacher,” said Kathy R. Bradley, the program coordinator.
Of students who complete the program and become licenced teachers, 90 percent find jobs close to home, Bradley said. The university’s data show that Partnership Teach graduates are more likely than new teachers overall to remain in the school where they began teaching for at least five years.
“They’re teaching in their home communities and they’re staying,” Bradley said. “As a former principal, I can tell you that’s a big deal.”
While the North Carolina initiative focuses on nontraditional students, a new Florida partnership seeks high school students.
Seminole State College of Florida is collaborating with the Seminole County Public Schools to offer teacher prep courses to high school seniors. The hope is that once seniors obtain college credits for the “Introduction to the Teaching Profession” and “Adolescent Development for Educators” classes, they’ll move on to Seminole State to complete their associate degree.
The partnership continues at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Students studying for a bachelor of education degree will receive financial support and mentoring throughout the course of their education and can count on a teaching job in Seminole County Public Schools at the completion.
“We hope that will be a great incentive to not only get into the pathway but to stick to it and come right back to Seminole County as teachers,” said Stephen P. Summers, associate vice president of the School of Arts and Sciences and Education at Seminole State.
In Dallas, a similar pipeline is being created by the Dallas Independent School District, Dallas County Community College District and Southern Methodist University, specifically to recruit and train future high school math teachers.
While nearly everyone agrees on the need for teacher preparation programs, consistent funding can be an issue. To offer scholarships and special opportunities to future teachers, schools rely on grants, foundation support and state aid. East Carolina University’s Partnership Teach program recently received an anonymous donation to fund $10,000 scholarships for 15 students. All of those sources are at risk to shifting priorities and the availability of money.
In Alabama, Drake State Community College and Athens State University are hoping state funds come through for another robust class of Minority Male fellows. For Athens, the program helps fulfill a trustees’ goal of increasing the number of minorities on campus. For Drake, it gives students a new career possibility. Aspiring teachers receive scholarships and mentoring opportunities in return for committing to teach in Alabama for two years.
Darlene Turner-White, an associate professor and the early childhood program coordinator at Athens State University, said black students told her she was the first person to approach them about a teaching career.
“Just being out there in the community colleges, in the churches, it was alarming to hear so many African-American males say that no one ever talked to them about being a teacher,” she said.