Organization members Marcus Moore, DeShaun Cornelius, Sarah Giramia, Jarae McCoy, Hailey Timmerman, and William Wright pose for a photo. (Photo provided to MLive from Kalamazoo Public Schools | Credit Linda Mah)
Students at Western Michigan University are doing their part to increase the number of African American teachers in Michigan.
Future Teachers of Color, a new student organization founded by alumni of Kalamazoo Public Schools, is working to help support developing teachers of color at WMU, according to a press release from the local school district.
Loy Norrix High School graduates Hailey Timmerman, William Wright and Sarah Giramia are three of the organization’s founding members and serve as officers for the group.
The founders believe having teachers of color in the classroom will inspire and motivate other African American students.
There is a “self-efficacy and confirmation of (students’) identity that comes from who teaches them,” Timmerman said in the release. Her own African American kindergarten teacher inspired her to do better in school, she said.
Having a teacher of color “makes me want to learn more,” Timmerman said.
“It makes my participation and attendance go up, because I feel I’m heard and I feel someone actually understands me as more than just the academic part of the classroom," she said.
The group was formed this fall and currently has about 24 members, the release said.
Their stated mission: “To bring together future educators of color at WMU with a focus on various topics related to career preparation, academic success, mentorship, community service outreach, and networking skills.”
About 50% of the public school student population is nonwhite, while about 80% of teachers are white, according to U.S. Department of Education data.
Wright, a junior at WMU and president of Future Teachers of Color, has long been interested in teaching as a career, he said in the release.
“We want to increase the number of teachers of color, and men in particular, so students can see us and see it as a field they can go into,” Wright said. “Just having one of two teachers of color, could have a huge impact on the students that see us in the classroom.”
It is important for students to have role models and teaching is a chance for Wright to be a “strong voice for academic excellence," the release said.
“A lot of students I’ve worked with have seen me before in high school sports, but they need to see that it all starts in the classroom,” Wright said. “That’s the main thing I’ve tried to inspire in them — that education is your passport. You need to be a student before anything else.”
In its own efforts to increase teacher population, Kalamazoo Public Schools launched the Young Educators Society, a high school club “reminiscent of the old-fashioned Future Teachers of America clubs.”
The plan is to expand the clubs to middle school and elementary school in future years, Sheila Dorsey-Smith, assistant superintendent for human resources, said in the release.
Kalamazoo Public Schools recently increased salaries for teachers to a minimum of $40,000 per year in the 2018-19 employee contract, in what a representative for the local union called “a really big win."