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Teachers as ‘lifechangers’: Growing a diverse teacher pipeline in Durham

A $4.8 million U.S. Department of Education grant launches a collaboration between the UNC School of Education and Durham Public Schools to recruit, train, and support diverse teachers, especially Latino teachers

“Not long ago, one of my Latino students said to me, ‘Thank you for being who you are. Because of you, I will be a teacher.'”

Victor Hiraldo, a Durham Public Schools (DPS) elementary school teacher, lives for these interactions. For him, these students represent the diverse teacher pipeline DPS is working toward. 

“Seeing someone who looks like you, that talks like you in front of a classroom… it makes things look possible,” said Luis Rosa, a fifth-grade teacher in a DPS school where more than half of the students are Latino. “You have to have people who look like the community you’re representing.”

When Hiraldo began teaching in Durham six years ago, one of the first things he did was to volunteer his help to bring Latino teachers to Durham. Since then, he’s even returned to his home territory of Puerto Rico to recruit prospective teachers.

One of those teachers, Princesa Santiago, has taught at a DPS middle school for a little more than a year. Already, she has built strong relationships with her students and their families, especially the Latino ones. For those students, she said having a Latino teacher is a “lifechanger.” 

“It’s empowerment and encouragement not only for kids who are more like me, but for kids who come from different cultures,” she said. “They’re going to remember having a teacher from Puerto Rico. They’re going to learn from that culture and grow from it.”

A recently awarded $4.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will launch the Diverse and Resilient Educators Advised through Mentorship (DREAM) teacher residency program, a collaboration between the UNC School of Education and DPS to recruit, train, and support diverse teachers, with a focus on Latino teachers.

The program holds the potential to help create lasting diversity in Durham’s teacher workforce and to enhance how the School prepares teachers through its Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program.

The need for Latino/a teachers in Durham

In North Carolina, 38% of students are of color, but only 17% of teachers are Black or Latino. As the state faces a shortage of teachers of color, there’s a growing understanding that these teachers have a positive influence on the academic outcomes among students of color. The gap between the percentage of Latino teachers and Latino students is larger than for any other racial or ethnic group.

Research has shown that students succeed at higher rates when their teacher looks like them. Recently, Constance Lindsay, a School of Education assistant professor, and a team of researchers built upon an existing study and found that, in addition to short-term benefits like increased test scores, by having a Black teacher by third grade, Black students were 13% more likely to enroll in college. If they had two Black teachers in that same timeframe, they were 32% more likely.

As one of the 10 largest school districts in North Carolina, DPS enrolls nearly 33,000 students;  42% identify as Black and 33% as Latino.

But only 3% of Durham teachers identify as Latino. Through ongoing recruitment efforts, Durham hopes to increase that figure to 10% by 2023. DREAM can help to increase that figure even more.

“Having a teacher who looks like you, standing in front of you makes a world of difference, research has shown us,” said Kimberly Hager, DPS senior director of human resources. “We have, for some time now, been thinking of different ways to tackle this need.” 

The need is great, but achievable based on previous and ongoing successes. Hager notes that approximately 40% of Durham teachers identify as Black — proportional to the student population. In recent years, DPS has grown the number of Black teachers, especially male teachers, through strategic partnerships, including one with North Carolina Central University.

“It’s not one-time work,” Hager said. “It’s ongoing work.”

DREAM will help to fill the need for Latino teachers in DPS schools. And as those teachers enter classrooms, more students of color, particularly Latino students, will see themselves in the profession.

Innovation and collaboration in preparation, retention

DREAM also holds the potential to advance the School’s MAT program in meaningful ways.

During the five-year project, DREAM seeks to add 40 diverse teachers to DPS classrooms, and then provide them with professional development supports to help them persist in the profession. 

“We are thrilled to build upon a longstanding partnership with Durham Public Schools to help them grow a diverse teacher workforce and pipeline,” said Fouad Abd-El-Khalick, UNC School of Education dean and professor. “And we are equally excited to continue a tradition of fulfilling the mission of the School by sharing our faculty members’ expertise and by serving one of North Carolina’s largest school districts.”

Kristin Papoi, MAT program director and the principal investigator for the project, said: “DREAM promises to provide a pathway through which we can recruit diverse pre-service teachers and provide them with support as newly hired teachers in Durham Public Schools to increase retention rates in and beyond the first three years of induction.”

DREAM will help to grow the DPS diverse teacher pipeline through four main objectives: 

Recruit — Nationwide, trends point to less diverse teacher candidates in schools of education, including at UNC-Chapel Hill. With DREAM, a focus on Latino teachers will seek to reverse that national trend and provide Durham with teachers in high-needs areas of elementary and special education. 

Already, the School works to recruit racially and ethnically diverse pre-service teachers and has begun recruiting candidates to enroll in the MAT program through DREAM in the 2022-23 academic year.

Educate — DREAM participants will complete coursework in the MAT program, which regularly graduates the state’s most highly effective teachers, and will receive enhanced coursework with an instructional emphasis on “transformative social and emotional learning” or transformative SEL. Through this transformative SEL instruction, participants will develop core competencies in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. It will help them to build strong relationships with students, parents, and school community members; to learn to identify and examine causes of inequities; and to develop collaborative solutions. DREAM participants also will complete student-teaching experiences embedded in schools in low-income neighborhoods of Durham federally classified as “Qualified Opportunity Zones.”

Support — DREAM builds upon and will incorporate an existing collaboration between the School and DPS called Partnership for Authentic Communities of Educators (PACE). Since 2018, Associate Professor Jocelyn Glazier has led the effort from the School’s side, providing support for pre-service teachers and early-career teachers by building networks that connect them with each other and with experienced teacher-mentors with the objective of easing the transition into teaching careers.

Retain — After graduation, DREAM teachers will teach in DPS schools and, for three years, participate in mentoring and learning communities and in “affinity caucuses” aimed at equipping them with skills, dispositions, and knowledge necessary for effectively teaching racially and ethnically diverse students — all in an effort to improve new teacher induction. By continuing affinity caucuses and providing leadership opportunities that emphasize culturally sustaining best practices for teaching diverse students, DREAM seeks to increase retention of its graduates beyond induction years.

DREAM is expected to have long-lasting effects on the School’s MAT program, said Diana Lys, assistant dean for educator education and accreditation and a co-principal investigator who will lead evaluation of the project.

“We anticipate that what we learn through building this initiative will inform ongoing efforts to continuously improve our teacher preparation programs,” Lys said.

Collaborating for a stronger community

For more than 25 years, the UNC School of Education has partnered with DPS in a variety of capacities, most consistently placing students in our educator preparation programs in internships where they learn to serve students and communities and, more recently, through PACE to bridge the gap between pre-service and in-service teachers.

“We’ve enjoyed a really strong partnership with UNC-Chapel Hill, and through DREAM, we’re hoping to continue it as a natural outgrowth of the success we have seen in PACE,” Hager said.

With DREAM, the School will bring in even more faculty expertise to ensure the project’s success. In addition to Papoi, Glazier, and Lys, faculty members Dorothy Espelage and Esther Ohito will lead SEL and affinity caucuses efforts, respectively. Additional partners include the UNC College of Arts & Sciences, the Institute for the Study of the Americas, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Integrated Academic and Behavior Systems Division, and LatinxEd, an outreach program supported by and housed within the School.

DREAM can produce positive long-lasting effects for the DPS teacher workforce and students. With more teachers like Hiraldo, Rosa, and Santiago, more Latino students might consider a career in teaching and create a healthy pipeline of teachers invested in and reflective of the community. Ultimately, all students, but Latino ones in particular, will have better short- and long-term outcomes.

“The thing I want for Durham is to have so many teachers that can be better than me,” Hiraldo said. “I know we can. I’m excited to see this new program. If we can multiply the number of great Latino teachers, can you imagine the impact we can have in our community and in the world?”

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