UConn Joins National Program to Recruit Minority Male Teachers

Mark Jenkins
Mark Jenkins Jr. ’13 (CLAS), ’14 MA speaks at a Neag School of Education event about the importance of having minority teachers in the classroom to inspire students. (Photo courtesy of Neag School of Education)

The Neag School of Education at UConn has been selected to participate in a national program aimed at recruiting more black and Hispanic men into teacher preparation programs.

UConn is among 10 universities from the 800-member American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) selected to participate in the organization’s first Networked Improvement Community project, which seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s teacher candidate pool.

According to data collected by AACTE, 80 percent of PK-12 teachers are white, middle-class women, and more than 40 percent of public schools have no teachers of color at all. Studies by the National Center for Education Statistics report that 2 percent of public school teachers are black males and fewer are Hispanic males.

Saroja Barnes, senior director for professional issues at AACTE, says universities were selected for the program based on great diversity within the school districts and community they serve, alignment of the project’s goals to the existing strategic initiatives and mission of the institution, and strategic attention to enrollment trends.

“AACTE is committed to working with our members to support innovative practices and the dissemination of those practices to the larger professional community,” says Barnes. “Our goal is to ensure the innovations that emerge from the work of this small group will be shared with the entire AACTE membership.”

Dean Thomas DeFranco says goals for expanding the diversity of teacher preparation within the Neag School of Education align closely with the objectives of AACTE.

“Given both the urgent need to address Connecticut’s achievement gap and the number of concerted efforts we have made to address this gap, I believe we are poised both to make significant contributions to AACTE and to engage in significant improvement efforts through our collaboration with [Networked Improvement Community] members,” he says.

Efforts by the Neag School of Education to expand the diversity of students enrolled in teacher education programs include the creation of the Teacher Prep Academy in Bulkeley High School in Hartford; designation of an academic advisor specifically charged with recruiting minority students into the Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s Program; and providing a variety of scholarship opportunities, such as the Connecticut State Minority Teacher Incentive Grants.

Dorothea Anagnostopoulos, director of teacher education in the Neag School, says a multipronged approach through the collaboration of a group of institutions will help to address the challenge of developing new approaches to expanding the teacher candidate pool.

“This Networked Improvement Community that we’ll be part of will help us collect data on whether those initiatives are working, how they are working, and provide us with insights and feedback where they are working,” says Anagnostopoulos. “The AACTE objective is on a parallel path with the Neag School. We hope to put our school at the forefront of these initiatives and get some cutting-edge research on these initiatives. It’s a complex terrain. That’s why we need a number of initiatives.”

Among the challenges to diversifying the teaching profession is the fact that students of color do not see themselves represented in front of the classroom, a point noted in a speech on campus last fall by Mark Jenkins Jr. ’13 (CLAS), ’14 MA, who completed his master’s degree in curriculum and instruction in the Neag School. His remarks were later published in The Hartford Courant.

“Low expectations and lack of both role models and support are what keep African-Americans from becoming teachers,” Jenkins said. “Children learn what they live. So how can they be expected to pursue – or believe they’ll receive support from – a field where few people look, sound, or come from places like they do?”

Jenkins also noted that teachers place low expectations on minority students, and that is “strangling the relationship they have with education.” Still, he was hopeful that the situation could change. He described how one of his students, an African American male, told another they would have to meet their teacher half way to get help in the classroom, and that they were also responsible for their own future.

“These words sparked the realization that my students knew I held them to the highest standard,” Jenkins said. “That they were responsible for their own educations, and that I was there for them to provide guidance and support.”