Delaware continues to grapple with two historic challenges when it comes to its teacher workforce. First, there are simply not enough teachers to keep pace with projected student growth. And second, the teachers that are in the classrooms and educator prep programs do not look like the students they serve.
Teacher diversity, or the lack of it, is a huge issue, not only here in Delaware, but across the nation. In 2017-18, 79 percent of the nation’s teachers were white compared to 46 percent white students. The situation in Delaware mirrors the national statistics: 83 percent of our teachers are white compared to 43 percent of students.
There are incredible benefits to having a more diverse teacher workforce. We know that black male students achieve higher-than-normal academic outcomes when taught by a black teacher. A more representative workforce can even help improve dropout rates and college-going aspirations.
There are many initiatives in the works to improve teacher recruitment and retention, all of which aim to alleviate a state- and nationwide teacher shortage and foster a more diverse workforce.
One is happening on college campuses, where Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College, University of Delaware, Wilmington University, and Educators Rising, have partnered with Rodel to create space on campus that will cultivate, prepare, and pull together important resources for students who are interested in becoming teachers.
This type of space is critical in ensuring that students remain in the teacher pipeline. Providing young students with a community to lean on helps them feel more prepared when they enter the classroom. Moreover, Red Clay and Colonial school districts, where half of students enrolled in the Teacher Academy career pathway program are students of color, are intentionally working toward establishing formal networks to ensure these students are supported. We can start to solve the teacher shortage and diversity issues by engaging these scholars early and often.
These formal networks, known as Collegiate chapters, are springing up on many college campuses. They serve as hubs for advising and supporting our budding teachers’ needs at all stages of their careers. The opportunities provided through Collegiate—from scholarships to conferences to professional development—will allow Delaware students to grow in ways that will encourage them to stay on the path to becoming an educator, and once in the classroom, stay for the long-haul.
Collegiate is just like any other college club you may see at the annual activities fair—it will have a leadership board, events, and trainings several times a semester. Collegiate offers students a chance to connect with other like-minded students on their campus, across our state, and across the nation. The net result is a community comprised of individuals who can relate to and support one another while also taking advantage of resources from Educators Rising—a national nonprofit that’s cultivating a new generation of highly skilled educators by guiding young people on a path from high school through college and into their teaching careers. Students in the program attend national conferences, sharpen their educator skills, gain leadership experience, and apply for scholarships.
Collegiate represents part of a growing effort to re-brand teaching as an outlet toward social justice, especially as schools struggle to hire and retain candidates of color.
These chapters should be up and running in the fall of 2021; so if you know an aspiring teacher at one of Delaware’s four educator prep programs, please encourage them to stay tuned to Collegiate for updates.
Kim Lopez is program manager at Rodel, a nonprofit organization that partners with Delawareans and educational innovators from around the world to transform public education in the First State.