The “grow your own” program about to launch in Buffalo schools is a valuable effort involving the district, Buffalo Teachers Federation and SUNY Buffalo State.
The aim is to increase diversity among teachers by mining the student body for future teachers. In a district where 67 percent of students are black or Hispanic, 85 percent of teachers are white.
The first class of the Urban Teacher Academy starts in September and will allow ninth-graders to take career-focused classes that serve as an introduction to the teaching profession. The program will be based at McKinley High School.
Students will learn about special education and teaching in an urban school setting. They will get field experience in Buffalo classrooms and work with a mentor already working in the school system. And they will graduate from high school with 12 college credits.
Students in the program who want to enter the teaching profession will receive a full-tuition scholarship at Buffalo State, in addition to financial assistance for room and board. Graduates will get preference for jobs in the district. In return, they have to commit to working in city schools for at least five years.
The district’s students will benefit because they will be learning from teachers who sat in those same classrooms and came from the same neighborhoods.
The district’s poor graduation rate works against the effort to recruit students into the teaching program because the best students have many options for college. It is all the more important to improve overall education in the city to increase the pool of teaching candidates.
This is not the district’s first effort aimed at increasing teacher diversity. Superintendent Kriner Cash worked to create a mentoring partnership with Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and has called on local colleges to adopt programs aimed at preparing graduates to teach in urban settings.
Diversity among the teaching ranks is a challenge for districts across the country. Finding well-qualified teachers willing to go into urban districts is even more so. Students in college teaching programs tend to be predominantly white, and minority graduates usually have many job choices.
The result is fewer role models for children of color and fewer examples for white students of minorities in leadership positions. None of this fits into the reality that the nation is becoming much more multicultural.
This is why the new Urban Teacher Academy is so critical. The district can grow its own teachers, who then return to teach a new generation of children.