2-Year Colleges Prepare Minorities For Teaching in Inner-City Schools

By Ann Bradley — March 14, 1990 8 min read
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For Mr. Tanks, the Central High custodian, who plans to teach elementary school, the program offers a way of bettering himself after a brief enrollment in college in 1975.

In his job as a high-school custodian, William K. Tanks often sees papers dropped by careless students. One day, he recalls, he found a report card for a student who was not doing well in school.

“I said to myself, ‘What could have been done to make him get better grades?”’ said Mr. Tanks, who had long been interested in teaching. “I was trying to figure out what had happened at the 5th- or 6th-grade level.”

Now Mr. Tanks, 33, has found an opportunity to pursue his interest. While continuing to hold down his job at Central High School here, he is one of the first students enrolled in a new program at Wayne County Community College that is preparing minority teachers to work in inner-city schools.

After two years of study toward associate’s degrees, Mr. Tanks and his classmates in the Urban Teacher Program will enroll in either Eastern Michigan or Wayne State university to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

The Detroit program, now in its second semester, is one of a handful of such efforts across the country. All are designed to recruit teachers from minority groups through partnerships between four-year institutions and community colleges.

Community colleges enroll 45 percent of all black students and 54 percent of all Hispanic students attending postsecondary institutions, according to the American Council on Education. Such colleges traditionally have offered the remedial classes, support, and counseling services needed to help many minority-group members make the transition from high school to higher education.

‘A Middle Ground’

Efforts like Wayne County’s include programs offered or being planned in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Milwaukee Area Technical College and the University of Wisconsin currently enroll more than 50 students in a joint program to prepare teachers for urban areas. The university’s campuses in Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, and Whitewater are participating.

This fall, Kent State University and Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio expect to begin a teacher-training program for minorities, although the focus will not be specifically on teaching in the inner city.

Like the Detroit program, both of these partnerships cite the need to emphasize support and counseling for minority teacher candidates to ensure a smooth transition to a four-year institution.

Leo W. Anglin, associate dean of the college and graduate school of education at Kent State, notes that preparing community-college students to become teachers represents a “middle ground” between traditional education programs that recruit students fresh out of high school and those that focus on retraining minority professionals from other fields.

Community-college-based programs are not easy to organize, he said, because of the “two different worlds” of two- and four-year schools.

“If we can zero in on that ‘articulation’ between the community college and the four-year college, we can help address the critical problem” of the shortage of minority teachers, he added.

Another teacher educator who is an advocate of the new approach agrees.

According to Martin Haberman, professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, universities must make ''structural changes” to form partnerships with community colleges, including taking their programs to the minority students.

Such an approach is the cornerstone of Detroit’s Urban Teacher Program. Except for a one-semester residency at either Eastern Michigan or Wayne State, students will take all of their courses at two of the community college’s campuses here.

Early Field Experiences

Because the demands of teaching in urban schools are so great, the Urban Teacher Program will provide students with early and sustained exposure to the types of classrooms in which they will eventually work.

By the time students receive their associate’s degrees, they will have completed several semesters of field work in Detroit-area schools under the guidance of mentor teachers.

“Most of the time, students don’t become intimately involved with schools until their junior years,” said Harriette Slocum, who directs the program for Wayne County Community College. “That’s much too late to decide whether they like children and what discipline or grade level they’d like to teach.”

The majority of the 70 students enrolled in the program are older black adults, many of whom have full-time jobs and are raising children. Ten are men.

Many have demonstrated their interest in education by working as school volunteers, paraprofessionals, or day-care providers.

For one such student, Lavada Jean Smith, a 41-year-old single mother of two, the program has provided an opportunity to pursue a longtime goal of becoming a schoolteacher. Ms. Smith has worked with preschool children for nine years, first as a Head Start teacher and now as a teacher in a day-care center for Wayne County employees.

“I can see I’m getting closer to my goal,” she said. “I can’t wait to get in my own classroom. There are a lot of children in the Detroit public schools who need help.”

Students in the Wayne County program will be guided throughout their studies by faculty members from the two cooperating universities, who will provide the services needed to ensure that students meet the necessary academic requirements for admittance to the four-year institutions.

The curriculum stresses sensitivity to the needs of disadvantaged students, who often do not have the parental support needed to excel in school, noted Ms. Slocum.

In interviewing applicants to the program, the community-college official said, she stressed the need for each student to make a commitment to teaching that would go beyond classroom work to tutoring, staying after school to help troubled students, and meeting with parents.

“We want them to know what it’s like from the very beginning,” she said. “They [may] have beautiful pictures of teaching because their mothers or grandmothers were teachers.”

The prospective teachers also will be taught that not all children learn in the same way, she added, noting that the curriculum will explore the effects of students’ backgrounds on their learning styles.

“The urban child, who is often the latchkey child, learns from group members,” Ms. Slocum said. “When they come to school, you can’t say, ‘Sit in a row and be quiet.”’

Minority-Teacher Supply Lags

Unlike traditional teacher-training programs, in which students typically choose their liberal-arts courses randomly, the Detroit urban-teaching program will advise students to take liberal-arts courses that have a multicultural emphasis. They will be required, for example, to take Afro-American history.

Currently, 39 of the 70 students who have been admitted are enrolled in an introductory education course. Later this month, the students will begin fieldwork with mentor teachers from the city’s public schools and the surrounding districts of Inkster, Romulus, and Taylor.

Public-school officials here have high hopes that the program will yield a new supply of minority teachers for the city. The school system, which is 80 percent black, is struggling to maintain racial balance in its teaching staff in the face of declining numbers of minority applicants.

“We have come to a crossroads where we just do not have the minority candidates any more,” said Margaret Dooley, a personnel administrator for the district. “I see this program as a viable beginning. It’s certainly not the true answer, but it’s going in that direction.”

Although they will not teach entire classes until their junior years, the urban-teaching students are expected to observe classes, tutor students, teach small groups of students, and serve as aides to their mentor teachers during their first two years.

The teacher candidates will be clustered in several schools in each district and will work with a variety of mentors in those schools throughout their four years of training.

Deeper Understanding

The arrangement is expected to give students a far deeper understanding of schools than is gained in traditional student-teaching programs, said Marvin Pasch, a professor in the department of teacher education at Eastern Michigan University and one of the organizers of the program.

Eventually, Mr. Pasch said, the program’s administrators hope to secure funding to provide stipends to the urban-teaching students that would enable them to give up non-education-related jobs during their last two years.

The program is supported by a $300,000 grant from the Michigan legislature and a $115,000 grant from the state education department’s office of minority equity. A $67,000 grant from the U.S. Education Department’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education supports part of the costs of the mentoring component.

By the end of the program’s third year, Mr. Pasch expects to have enrolled 300 students. Putting together a program of that size--"as big an effort as many colleges of education,” he noted--will require an intensive recruiting campaign.

The first students in the program were recruited from among the community college’s own student body and by advertising on local television and radio stations.

To reach an enrollment of the size envisioned, Mr. Pasch said, the program will also have to draw new graduates from area high schools. The program’s mentor teachers are expected to do their part by recruiting their own high-school students.

“This is the most formidable challenge I’ve ever had in 30 years in education,” Mr. Pasch said of the effort to train more minority teachers. “It’s not by any means a certainty we’re going to be successful.”

“Just fighting through the bureaucracies of three institutions and trying to get everybody to work as a team has been an enormous journey,” he added.

The program represents no less of a challenge for its students, who often attend classes after working full days and sometimes bring their children with them.

For Mr. Tanks, the Central High custodian, who plans to teach elementary school, the program offers a way of bettering himself after a brief enrollment in college in 1975.

“I’m going to stick it out,” he said. “I’m not going to be a custodian forever.”

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