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A Pathway to Teacher Diversity: ExpandED Fellowship Program Uses Afterschool to Train Aspiring Teachers of Color

By Kody Melancon, Director, Pathways Fellowship

Curious. Passionate. Talented. Gracious. These words reflect the qualities present in a room full of Pathways Fellows, all of whom are people of color who have embarked on the journey toward becoming teachers.

The dearth of teachers of color -- particularly men -- has been well-documented. For a complex host of reasons ranging from education costs to the negative experiences they faced as students, men of color represent just two percent of teachers across America. Yet research has consistently shown that an increase in the number of teachers of color could have a significant impact on student success.

Fortunately, in the five years since ExpandED established the Pathways Fellowship, we have learned that with the right support men of color will seriously explore and pursue teaching as a career path. Designed for people of color interested in becoming teachers, the Pathways Fellowship offers three tracks: general education, STEM, and computer science. The program has received funding from the Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation and NewSchools Venture Fund as well as a $1 million grant from Google to diversify the pool of computer science teachers.

ExpandED gave deep consideration to what support our fellows would need. One core pillar is the afterschool practicum. Like many other teacher-training programs, Pathways offers training and mentorship, but we also require our fellows to complete a 10-month apprenticeship teaching in afterschool. In this role, our fellows must design curriculum, connect with kids, and teach actual subjects, like STEM and literacy. As difficult as it is, we believe this practicum helps light the teaching fire. And our fellows are enthusiastic about the experience. 

ExpandED’s work toward advancing the afterschool field focuses on fostering joyous learning experiences through hands-on projects. We train Pathways fellows in this model, which also gives them the autonomy to shift the instructional focus depending on the students’ interests and curiosity. Thanks to the training, mentoring, and freedom afterschool allows, fellows are able to focus on the richness of a lesson’s content and explore ways to make lessons engaging.

As we observe our fellows’ development, we can see that they flourish in the authentic learning environment afterschool provides. Watching our fellows evolve, we know that most would make exceptional teachers. Yet even the most driven Pathways fellows face hurdles and roadblocks that make it difficult for them to commit to and succeed as full-time teachers. Currently, ExpandED Pathways is doing what it can to address these issues, which include:

  • The complex certification process and associated costs: The after-school practicum mirrors student teaching, but Pathways fellows who are education majors do not receive credit that could be applied to their undergraduate degree requirements. If our fellows receive course credit, it could help accelerate the time required for degree completion and reduce the financial burden fellows face. 

  • Deficits in prior academic preparation: Before fellows declare their intent to become teachers, they must reconcile their past K-12 experience. As past research has noted, African Americans and Hispanics often graduate high school with many academic deficits. This makes it challenging for them to enter the teaching field without first addressing past learning gaps. Through exploring partnerships with community colleges, ExpandED is looking to tackle this issue head on and support our fellows in building their capacity for a rigorous and rewarding teaching career.

  • Financing the journey: The Pathways Fellowship program serves largely first generation college students who receive financial assistance from their respective colleges and universities. Sometimes compounding factors, such as major family responsibilities, overwhelm our fellows causing them to delay completing college and sometimes even leaving college altogether. The Pathways Team is working to build into the program college and career counseling that supports the fellows with staying on course. Additionally, the team is looking to raise more funds to provide more resources, such as stipends, to offset the cost of college completion. 

  • Adapting to state and federal mandates for student performance: Some fellows do clear all the hurdles only to discover that the K-12 setting is dominated by accountability measures that limit their ability to put their creativity and talents to best use. Consequently, some of our fellows forego opportunities to teach in district and charter schools and pursue career opportunities where they can serve youth within a context that is less regulated by state and federal mandates for teaching and learning. Of course, not all schools are the same, so we are working with our fellows to help them identify schools that would provide a good cultural fit.

Since 2015, 105 people of color have graduated the Pathways fellowship. In the first few years, we recruited primarily from the pool of people working in youth development. However, only about a quarter went on to alternative teacher certification programs or to teach in charter schools. In order to increase this number, we have shifted our efforts to recruit fellows who are college students with an interest in teaching. We believe that with the right support these students will have a strong chance of becoming successful teachers. There are 32 Fellows in the class of 2021 and our goal is for 70% to enter the classroom. 

Will we achieve this goal? Stay tuned for updates. 

 

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