Western Michigan University is doing its part to help bring a diverse pool of new teachers into the field of education amid a statewide teacher shortage.
The WMU College of Education and Human Development brought students, educators and school leaders from across the state together in an effort to recruit and retain teachers of color at the inaugural “Inspiring Future Teachers of Color Conference” Saturday, Feb. 29.
The conference was an opportunity to create a statewide pipeline network among people working individually on increasing the number of teachers in Michigan, said Marcy Peake, director of diversity and community outreach initiatives at the college.
“Let’s get together in the same room at the same time," Peake said of leaders from WMU, Eastern Michigan University, Kalamazoo Public Schools, Muskegon Public Schools, the Michigan Department of Education and others.
The pipeline network will allow leaders to work together for advocacy, share best practices and help change the narrative about teaching and other issues in the effort to diversify the teaching field, Peake said.
A Michigan League for Public Policy 2018 report called attention to the diversity disparity between teachers and students. While 1 of every 3 Michigan students was a child of color the 2017-18 school year, more than 90 percent of teachers and 80 percent of school administrators were white.
Nationally, 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.
Along with the statewide alliance work, the conference will also offer both high school and undergraduate students interested in teaching a free workshop on the profession.
Students from Michigan State University, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Washtenaw Community College and others from across the state are expected at the conference Saturday.
The conference is the latest in multiple initiatives from Peake and the college’s dean, Ming Li, over the last five years to help recruit teachers, Peake said.
One of those initiatives is the Future Educator Program, which was established in 2015 to increase the number of underrepresented populations in the teaching field. The program partners with the college, Kalamazoo Public Schools and The Kalamazoo Promise.
Students in the program participate in twice-monthly group seminars, volunteer in Kalamazoo Public Schools, receive peer and faculty mentorship and guidance and are employed by KPS for summer school sessions.
In summer 2019, the program scholars formed the WMU student organization “Future Teachers of Color." In the six months since its inception, the organization has initiated a collaborative partnership with KPS Human Resources and launched the video series “Why I Teach” to “change the narrative of who pursues teaching and why,” the university said.
Loy Norrix High School graduates Hailey Timmerman, William Wright and Sarah Giramia are three of the student organization’s founding members and serve as officers for the group.
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.”
In other efforts to increase the teacher population, KPS launched the Young Educators Society in 2019, a high school club for students with interest in teaching.