It's good to see cities like Chicago questioning the disparity in teachers of color relative to student representation. What's important to note is that it's not just about increasing brown and black bodies. Rather, we need to be thinking about preparing teachers and equipping them with competencies beyond academic (book) skills.
By REBECCA VEVEA | NY Times
Published: October 6, 2011
The gap between the number of minority teachers in Chicago’s public schools and minority student enrollment has widened over the last decade, but one school is working to change that by preparing the next generation of teachers.
At Wells Community Academy High School, where the racial breakdown of students is almost evenly split between African-Americans and Hispanics, more than 60 students are participating in a teacher training program that gets them to the front of the classroom years before most aspiring teachers.
Students enrolled in the Chicago Urban Teacher Academy at Wells participate in a four-year curriculum — in partnership with National Louis University — designed to focus on best practices in teaching. One day a week students work in classrooms at one of three nearby elementary schools — Peabody, Talcott or Moos. As soon as November, first-year students start conducting lessons, and will continue to do so throughout the four years.
Ernesto Matias, the principal at Wells, started the program two years ago, and now it has three groups of students — one in its second year, and two groups of freshmen.
Mr. Matias hopes that someday he can hire his own students as teachers.
“Not only have they familiarized themselves with the trade, but they will have the classroom experience too,” he said. “At the end of four years, they’ll really know if teaching is what they were meant to do.”
Research indicates that there is a persistent gap between the percentage of minority students and the percentage of minority teachers across the country. For example, according to state data, in 2000 45 percent of Chicago Public School teachers were white, 40 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic. In 2010, 50 percent of teachers were white, 29 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic.
Meanwhile, state data shows, in 2000 52 percent of Chicago students were black, 34 percent Hispanic and 10 percent white. In 2010, 45 percent of students were black, 42 percent were Hispanic and 9 percent were white.
Census numbers reflect the trend: the city’s black population has decreased significantly and the number of Hispanics has increased modestly over the last 10 years.
“Our students, a lot of them come from communities where there are not a ton of positive role models,” said Andrew Cengel, a teacher at Wells and an adjunct professor at National Louis. “It would be nice if, when they walked into a classroom, they saw someone who looks like them.”
Jesus Fegura, a freshman in the teaching program, said an elementary school teacher inspired him to become a teacher.
“He kept telling me not to join a gang, because then I wouldn’t go to college,” Jesus said. “He stopped me from growing up on the streets. I told myself, When I grow up, I want to be just like him.”
The graduation rate in Chicago’s public schools hovers just above 50 percent. The Wells program also aims to keep students engaged in school, making them less likely to drop out and more likely to attend college.
As Jesus put it, he and his classmates learn “how to like why you’re here.”