With schools across the country struggling to find enough teachers and diversify their staffs, some communities are looking more seriously at the idea of “growing your own.” If you can’t find the teachers you need, the thinking goes, develop them.
That’s essentially the idea behind a newly relaunched program associated with the professional association PDK International. Educators Rising, formerly known as Future Educators Association, is a national network working to help school systems guide young people on the path to teaching starting in high school.
Launched last August, the free service connects teachers and school leaders with expertise and resources to support them in preparing students interested in teaching—and ultimately in building stronger local pipelines of future educators.
Grow-your-own programs are not a new idea in K-12 education. They have a long history in some communities, particularly as a vehicle to prepare racial- and ethnic-minority educators and those for hard-to-staff fields. But they’ve often been fragmented in approach, small in scale, and reliant on uncertain support.
Whether Educators Rising can change that dynamic remains to be seen, since its current cadre of student participants has yet to enter college.
But the organization believes that bringing cohesion and stronger resource support to local efforts can help create a new—and currently much-needed—"front end” in teacher development, according to Dan Brown, a former teacher who is a co-director of Educators Rising.
“There’s an apparent self-interest for communities to grow their own [teachers], and we want to provide an army of support in the background to help them do that well,” Brown said. “I hope that we’ll be able to get to a place where every community is really thinking proactively about growing their own highly skilled teachers, and Educators Rising aims to be a national partner to help with that.”
Educators Rising currently has some 11,000 members, including both student-participants and the teachers and administrators who lead the program at their schools. The network is operating in some 850 high schools and has partnerships with 11 states and two regions, in Boston and New York City. Forty-nine percent of the 10,000 student members are racial and ethnic minorities—a rate that far outpaces the 17-percent minority makeup of the current U.S. teaching profession.
The schools affiliated with Educators Rising provide the on-the-ground implementation, creating and running their own teacher-preparation co-curricular programs or elective courses at the high school level. The courses are often integrated into schools’ career-and-technical-education programs or offered as extracurriculars.
At the national level, the organization provides crowdsourced and curated lesson plans, teaching materials, and other resources, including a virtual “campus” feature that houses teaching-practice videos and connects members with experts and other stakeholders. The curriculum includes courses on human growth and development and curriculum and instruction, as well as a teaching internship.
Educators Rising also offers national conferences, competitions, scholarships, an honors society, and—starting this year—a micro-credentialing system to help students document the skills they’ve mastered. (Additional support services, such as mentoring and job-search guidance, are available to student members when they enter college.) In addition, the group is working with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards on a set of standards for what students need to know to become successful educators.
“We provide students and teacher leaders with leadership training, opportunities to partner with organizations and work in communities, and encourage innovation,” said Rachael Mann, the coordinator of Educators Rising’s Arizona affiliate. “We train our students to look beyond what currently is happening in education and explore all of the possibilities of what could be.”
Aubrey Gray, a senior at Pickerington High School Central in Ohio, near Columbus, and an Educators Rising participant, said the program has given her a better grasp of her career direction.
“I’ve learned a lot of the basics about education, such as equity and classroom management,” Gray said. “I’ve learned so much from being able to actually go out and observe classrooms and spend time with students and teachers in their real, day-to-day routines. I cherish my observation days, and they make me even more excited about having my own classroom one day.”
Generating that kind of enthusiasm about a profession that is often disparaged is key to Educators Rising’s mission.
“The core of our vision from the beginning has been about engaging bright young people with a rigorous, authentic, hands-on opportunity to explore teaching,” said Brown. “Our goal is to catalyze a movement around the central idea that there’s power in teaching.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 27, 2016 edition of Education Week as Teaching Network Grooms H.S. Students