U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona envisions a more diverse, better paid, and more respected teaching profession in 10 years, and knows how crucial teacher retention is to the future of the profession, as teacher shortages continue nationwide.
“I want to see the profession as beautifully diverse as our country,” he said July 19 to a room of about 80 Black teachers and teachers-in-training in Washington, D.C. “Our students need that. Folks that look like them in front of the classrooms.”
The audience was part of the Teacher Quality and Retention Program, or TQRP, offered by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a nonprofit that represents Black colleges and institutions.
TQRP is a five-year fellowship, supporting new and aspiring teachers which provides preservice training, personalized support once teachers enter into the classroom, and an annual 10-day professional development summer institute.
Cardona’s speech on the final day of the institute filled the TQRP fellows with hope for the future of teaching, three teachers who work in Title I schools across the country told Education Week.
“It was just good to know that there was somebody in the position who is relatable and who has experienced what we’re going through currently in the classroom,” said Paris Patterson, a teacher in the East St. Louis schools in Illinois.
Cardona told the teachers about being a first-generation college student, how he got into teaching, and how he became a principal at 28. He also talked about the greatest challenges to the teaching profession that the U.S. Department of Education plans to tackle, such as teacher shortages, inadequate pay, and lack of professional development.
“This teacher shortage is a symptom of the teacher-respect issue we have in this country,” Cardona said. “Let’s trust their decisions in the field. Let’s ask for their input as we reimagine schools after the pandemic.”
Regular professional development can help retain teachers
Offering teachers regular professional development is one way to ensure they stay in the profession, Cardona said.
The whole purpose of the TQRP program is “to encourage these stars to stay in the classroom and to be good role models for others, and then to hopefully inspire the next generation of teachers,” said Harry Williams, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s CEO.
The program offers the training they need, the three teachers told EdWeek.
“I think they’re providing what we missed in college, during our formal education,” said India Barnett, a teacher from the District of Columbia’s school system.
“Professional development in districts, they try to give us information about resources that half the time we don’t even really use as educators,” Barnett said. “And it takes time away from things like this, where we actually [learn] the tools to teach students how to read, teach students how to do mathematical equations, how to understand science.”
Increasing salaries can help recruit more teachers
Offering higher salaries to teachers is another effective retention strategy, Cardona said.
He said that teachers make 27 percent less than other college graduates with similar degrees. His department has been pushing governors to raise the entry-level and mid-tier teacher salaries to ensure teachers stay in the profession, he said.
He also highlighted apprenticeship programs, which will allow teachers to earn a wage while completing their training in classrooms. President Joe Biden has highlighted the model as a way to combat teacher shortages.
Nineteen states now have teacher apprenticeship programs, Cardona said. He wants to expand that to all 50 states.
Williams said it’s encouraging to hear Cardona prioritize apprenticeships for aspiring teachers.
“If there’s a program designed so that teachers can get paid, just like in corporate America, to do internships, I think that would be a great tool that could potentially attract more people into education,” Williams said.