Recruiting Washington Teachers Helps High School Students Explore Careers in Teaching

Apr 21, 2019 by

By Beth Geiger – Grow Your Own teacher preparation programs are a promising strategy for increasing the racial and linguistic diversity of the educator workforce and easing teacher shortages. Over the next few months New America will be highlighting GYO programs and research from across the country to help elevate the different approaches that are being taken to leverage GYO as a strategy for developing the teacher workforce communities need.

In the second blog of the series, Beth Geiger, educator pathways lead at the State of Washington Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB), explains how the Recruiting Washington Teachers program is helping to recruit the next generation of educators in the state.

Washington, like many states across the country, is experiencing multiple teacher shortages. We have a shortage of fully certified teachers; a shortage of specific endorsement areas, some statewide and some with geographic pockets of shortage; and we have a shortage of teachers who reflect the identities and racial makeup of our students. Further, rural and remote communities struggle to find candidates interested in committing to and remaining in their communities.

One consequence of these teacher shortages is the messages sent to our students. Students largely experience white-centric curriculum and content in school, while simultaneously seeing no representation of themselves and their peers in the teacher workforce (11 percent of teachers in Washington are teachers of color, compared to 46 percent students of color). The difficulties rural communities face in retaining teaching staff can result in the message to students that they aren’t worth investing in, as a revolving door of teachers lead their classes or rooms stay empty.

So, how do we begin to tackle all of these issues and the many side effects? There is no one-size-fits all answer. However, in Washington State, we have found a flexible method that can develop future teachers while simultaneously improving the educational experience for current students. This method is an equity-based high school teacher academy curriculum that strives to recruit students of color and facilitate their exploration of US education through a new lens—that of the teaching profession. The curriculum and resources are known as the Recruiting Washington Teachers (RWT) program. The overarching goal of the RWT program is to “grow our own” diverse group of future teachers who more closely reflect the population of today’s children and youth.

RWT helps students explore cultural identity and educational opportunities through the lens of the teaching profession. The program supports participants as they complete high school and apply to and attend college. RWT works to strengthen the pathway from high school to teaching, with the goal that students will become not only certified teachers, but also education leaders who make a difference in their communities.

Originally started as a pilot in 2007, the program was expanded to a statewide curriculum and resource bank in 2015 at the request of the Washington State legislature. The curriculum incorporates standards of cultural competence, new research on educator preparation, as well as activities and ideas from the original RWT pilot sites. Students dive into the historic inequities in education while also serving in elementary or middle school classrooms for a practicum or internship. Not only do students gain relevant experience, they also have an opportunity to see themselves as leaders and mentors. This role can change their understanding of school as the curtain is pulled back from the behind-the-scenes work of educators and administrators.

RWT resources, curriculum, and professional development modules are publicly available on the PESB website, with the intention that school districts statewide will make use of the tools provided to implement local RWT programs. This model of career exploration with a cultural and social justice angle has seen great success in getting students interested in teaching and in improving their experience in K-12 education. One RWT student at a spring 2018 site visit stated, “I think [teaching] is a rewarding career. It allows you to teach kids and it helps advance them in life. Teachers are some of the most important people in a student’s life, and I think to be a part of that is just priceless.”

Students regularly report the program has changed how they view the rest of their classes now that they’ve had a taste of running a classroom themselves. Disruptions from their peers are no longer entertaining, they are frustrations that they understand. The inclusion of students in the management of classrooms gives them ownership and a feeling of investment in their schooling—largely radical shifts from how they felt about school before joining RWT.

Additionally, the program has seen great success in its goal of recruiting students of color. While the racial and ethnic composition of the participants varied from site to site, students of color were consistently a substantial percentage, accounting for 88 percent of participants at our partner sites (PESB maintains a grant relationship with four “learning laboratory” sites, allowing us to collect data and try out new resources and supports). Each year greater returns on investment are seen for the participating districts—more and more students graduate high school (RWT participants have an average on time graduation rate of 96 percent, compared to 79 percent statewide) and proceed to college (87 percent of participating seniors applied to and were accepted into college) and return to their communities as education advocates. One student reported, “It has solidified things for me. It makes me feel like teaching is what I will be good at and that it is something that I need to stick with.” Students are given a purpose, direction, and a chance to see themselves as role models to the next generation.

Former participants have been hired as certified teachers in Renton School District, and other districts currently employ returning students as graduation specialists and as paraeducators while they work toward a college degree. Several districts provide graduates of the RWT program with a letter guaranteeing them an interview upon their return. In districts such as Tacoma Public Schools that employs over 5,000 people, the guarantee of an interview can create a substantial difference for students returning as educators.

The RWT curriculum has now been available for close to four years and the longest running pilot site has been in operation for eleven (Renton School District). And in 2018, the program expanded to include seven pilot sites focused on creating future bilingual teachers—next year’s RWT report will include their findings, successes, and needs for the future.

As RWT grows and we approach the timeframe needed to see former students graduating from preparation programs, we look forward to learning more about how the program can adapt to our students’ needs. RWT must remain flexible and responsive if it is to be truly valuable to Washington’s students. For now, there is much to be celebrated in students leaving the program with realizations such as: “[RWT] made me realize that I could go and achieve my goals despite the barriers I faced.” The RWT program is one model for addressing teacher and diversity shortages by growing future teachers from our classrooms.

Source: Recruiting Washington Teachers Helps High School Students Explore Careers in Teaching

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