Teacher preparation programs and K-12 districts face daunting challenges in diversifying the teaching force. Research indicates troubling realties such as higher teacher turnover rates for teachers of color and attrition rates as high as 80% for alternatively certified teachers (Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond, 2017). Attrition rates are also high in critical areas like STEM and special education, and these realities are often exacerbated in high-need K-12 schools. A response to these challenges calls for creative and strategic approaches through partnerships between teacher preparation programs, school districts, and community colleges. Together, we can recruit and attract strong teaching candidates of color that better reflect the diversity of the communities that our schools serve. To that end, we would like to present a few strategies that have proven to be fruitful in attracting diverse high school and community college students that we have used at Cal Poly Pomona (CPP).
Like other campuses across CSU’s system, our Celebration of Teaching has become an annual event, and it has become the most significant activity of our teacher recruitment committee, comprised of both faculty and staff. Committee members have cultivated strong high school pipelines through partnerships with teacher clubs and academies where high school educators nominate juniors and seniors who demonstrate potential for teaching. Small learning communities aligned to the Education, Child Development, and Family Services sectors of the Linked Learning Pathways have been an ideal place to start.
We have also connected with leaders of our Best Buddies clubs in our partner districts to expand the pool of high school students who have an aptitude and passion for teaching students with disabilities. Finally, with respect to recruiting students of color and tapping a broader base of potential future teachers, we have actively sought ways to collaborate more intentionally with our community college partners and other campus and community members. For example, we attend recruitment events hosted by our community college partners, and we have hosted community college partner luncheons where we share information about the celebration events and nomination campaigns. We also involve all of our cultural centers on campus as well as our Center for Community Engagement to identify nominees. Recently, we have begun reaching out to faith communities in our area. We are excited and hopeful about the potential pool of diverse candidates we might encourage and guide toward a career in education.
One of the key markers for a successful Celebration of Teaching is the number of students (nominees) attending the event. It’s important when you begin planning and setting attendance goals to understand that not every student who is nominated will RSVP and, for various reasons, not everyone who does RSVP will actually attend the event. With that in mind, a successful turnout relies heavily upon follow-up contacts with those who have nominated students and then with the student nominees themselves. At CPP, we employ digital tools to help us track the nomination process in real-time and to provide data that significantly influences the final attendee count. We use Constant Contact (i.e., an email service) to send emails that are graphics based, user friendly, and make next steps straightforward for nominators and nominees. We also use Excel, which is integrated with Constant Contact, and allows us to easily download lists of those we have not heard from and who require follow-up. We may send another email with a more compelling subject line or follow-up with a phone call. In both cases, the goal is to establish firm commitments from those attending the event. We have learned to get commitments from 10%-20% more than our attendance goal for attendees to compensate for those who will not attend.
At the Celebrations of Teaching events, we have built upon and strengthened our relationships with local teachers, superintendents, and administrators who serve as table talk facilitators. Recurring feedback from the nominees indicates their appreciation for this interactive portion of the event, during which students at each table engage in thought-provoking and informative conversations. The table discussions are facilitated by current and former educators from all K-12 levels who volunteer their time.
These events have strengthened the bonds with our partner school districts. Relationships develop from the collaboration between faculty and staff from CPP and the local teachers and administrators at the event. Our partners leave excited, with a better understanding of all that CPP offers its credential students. They have become ambassadors of the Celebration of Teaching event and champions of the programs offered at CPP.
A highlight of all of our celebration events has always been the inspirational keynote talks. We have been fortunate to be able to hear from superintendents, professors, and successful new teachers who have shared their inspirational journeys into teaching. We have made an intentional effort to find diverse speakers in whom our prospective candidates might see themselves. In 2017, we were honored to have Ms. Isela Lieber, the California Teacher of the Year, give a powerful and meaningful answer to the question, “Why Teach?” Next year, when we reconvene after the current health crisis, we look forward to hearing from Dr. Ernest Black, systemwide director for CalStateTEACH, and 2020 Teacher of the Year Ms. Brenda Berraras. They will speak about why diversity in education matters from an insider perspective, as this will be the theme of our event.
The Celebration of Teaching has provided an excellent opportunity to acknowledge and recruit undergraduate and high school students who demonstrate the characteristics necessary to be successful teachers. The event has allowed us to highlight the benefits of teaching and the practical steps necessary to get there. Faculty look forward to interacting with students, and students feel honored by the nominations. Investing time in organizing the evening and communicating with all of those who attend--students, mentors, education faculty, and speakers--has been a truly worthwhile investment.