In Search Of Teachers

August 01, 1990 3 min read

Tanks and his classmates in the Urban Teacher Program will spend two years earning associate’s degrees at the community college. They will then enroll in either Eastern Michigan University or Wayne State University to complete their bachelor’s degrees in education.

The program, now entering its second year, is one of a handful of such partnerships between four-year institutions and community colleges across the country. All are designed to recruit teachers from minority groups by tapping into a ready-made pool of candidates. Community colleges enroll roughly 45 percent of all black students, and 55 percent of all Hispanic students, attending postsecond- ary institutions.

The teacher-training programs have been created to provide the support and counseling minority teacher candidates need to ensure a smooth transition to a four-year institution.

Because the demands of teaching in urban schools are so great, the Detroit program will provide students with early and sustained exposure to the types of classrooms in which they will eventually work. Although they will not teach entire classes until their junior year, the urban-teaching students are expected to observe classes, tutor students, teach small groups of students, and serve as aides under the guidance of mentor teachers during their first two years. In fact, by the time students receive their associate’s degrees, they will have completed several semesters of fieldwork in Detroit-area schools.

“Most of the time, students don’t become intimately involved with schools until their junior year,’' says 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. “I can’t wait to get in my own classroom,’' says Smith, who has worked with preschool children for nine years. “There are a lot of children in the Detroit public schools who need help.’'

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

The curriculum stresses multicultural education and sensitivity to the needs of disadvantaged students, who often do not have the parental support needed to excel in school. In interviewing applicants to the program, Slocum says 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 says.

Public school officials in Detroit 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,’' says Margaret Dooley, a personnel administrator for the city school district. “I see this program as a viable beginning. It’s certainly not the whole answer, but it’s going in that direction.’'

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--program officials hope to have 300 students enrolled by the end of the third year--new graduates from area high schools will also have to be recruited.

For 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 says. “I’m not going to be a custodian forever.’'

Ann Bradley, Education Week

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1990 edition of Teacher as In Search Of Teachers