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Earlier this month, four young women arrived in Pittsburgh for a visit that could shape their future careers and in doing so could also have an impact on the lives of all students in the area.
Educators have known for many years that representation matters: Research has shown that learning from a single black teacher between Grades 3 and 5 decreases the likelihood of black students dropping out of high school and increases the likelihood that these students will drop out of high school. students attend a college year.
But students in Allegheny County often do their entire schooling without learning from a single teacher of color. In the 2019-2020 school year, data examined by the Research for Action think tank showed that 42% of all schools in Allegheny County had no teachers of color. That’s 112 schools in the Pittsburgh area without a single teacher of color.
These numbers echo the statewide shortage of educators of color: In 2019-2020, data shows that half of Pennsylvania’s public schools employed only white teachers.
This problem, of course, is not new: Research for Action found that between the 2013-2014 school year and the 2019-2020 school year, the percentage of students of color in Pennsylvania increased from 30, 5% to 35.8%. But during the same time period, the percentage of teachers of color in Pennsylvania fell only from 5.4% to 6.0%.
This impacts students of color, and it also means that many white students don’t learn or learn about people of color in their communities.
So while the visit of just four young women, all undergraduates at Howard University studying elementary education, may seem like a small thing, it is the start of something meaningful. These teachers “in initial training” constitute the inaugural cohort of an innovative program called OTIS: Operation Teacher (of Color) Irrigation System, which aims to change these problematic numbers.
The program is the brainchild of South Fayette School District Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Dr. Chuck Herring.
He proposed the concept of “irrigation system” to convey that the Pittsburgh area does not need a single narrow pipeline, especially given all the negative connotations that the term “pipeline” now carries in. the world of education. Instead, Herring aims to “flood the region” with talented teachers of color from across the country by introducing them to Pittsburgh while they are in college.
It all started in Washington, DC, just weeks before the pandemic broke in early 2020.
Show instead of say
On February 29, 2020, Herring found himself spending Leap Day at the NEMNET career fair for teachers of color. After 25 years as an educator in the Pittsburgh area, he was eager to inspire young teachers at this event in the nation’s capital to consider a career in Southwestern PA.
Herring is a source of positive energy and a skilled speaker. His natural enthusiasm should have made it easier to sell the idea of applying for teaching positions in Pittsburgh. But the students and early-career teachers he met that day had outdated visions of Pittsburgh’s industrial age.
No matter how much he talked about the evolution of “ED and drugs” in Pittsburgh, Herring recalls, “I couldn’t get anyone to understand what we have here in Pittsburgh.”
They needed to see Pittsburgh and experience it.
“Life is showing and saying,” says Herring. But if you want to inspire someone and convince them to launch their future in a part of the country they had never considered before, you definitely need “more to show than to say”.
So, even as the pandemic put an end to schooling around the world, Herring began to develop a method to do the projection.
Presentation of our ecosystem
Over 18 months later, OTIS finally kicked off earlier this month. The four teachers-in-training arrived on a Thursday and were picked up from the Pittsburgh airport in a yellow school bus.
They were warmly welcomed to South Fayette College for meetings with teachers and administrators, and even cheered on the school’s football team that Friday night. But their visit included more than just a glimpse into life inside a K-12 school in a suburb of Pittsburgh.
These future teachers ventured into the region’s learning ecosystem, visiting the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh to meet with Dr. T. Elon Dancy, the centre’s executive director. They also visited Carlow University, where several administrators and professors took the time to speak with them, including the president of the university, Dr. Kathy W. Humphrey.
“Dr. Humphrey is a black woman,” Herring said, “and she’s just amazing.… You talk to her and she just has that presence. So for these 20 year olds, they have the opportunity to talk to someone. ‘one who 40 years ago was where they are, and now look where she is. It was really powerful and impactful.
This kind of meeting will continue during the next visit of the group, probably in the spring of 2022. But the life of teachers, like everyone, is much more than work. Herring therefore plans to invite church leaders and other members of the black community, including black hairdressers, to meet with the group on future trips.
“We’re going to bring them to people who are from their culture,” Herring says, so they can make connections and really imagine themselves teaching and living in Pittsburgh.
Assuming funds are available, this group of prospective teachers will continue to make regular visits over the next two years. And I hope more cohorts will be formed to bring more pre-service teachers of color to the Pittsburgh area. Howard University typically sends students to international locations for their teaching months, but one of the goals is for OTIS participants to teach in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Herring is the first to recognize that the Pittsburgh area’s shortage of teachers of color will not be offset by easy fixes or quick fixes.
But attracting new teachers of color to this area and inspiring these future teachers to tell others what they have seen here is a big step. And small changes can have a significant impact.
“If we had almost 10% teachers of color,” Herring. said, “That would be more than enough to really start helping all the students.”
This article is part of a series for “Tomorrow” powered by Remake Learning. “Tomorrow” explores – through virtual events, grantmaking and storytelling – what we can do today to make tomorrow a better place for all learners. Follow or share your hopes for today’s youth by using the hashtag #RemakeTomorrow and tagging @RemakeLearning. Learn more about Remake Learning here. And read more “Tomorrow” articles posted on Kidsburgh.