Diversifying state's teaching profession takes 'purposefully recruiting'
Owasso High School senior Alexa Brown wants to become a teacher and she has a high school career that could indicate she'd make a fine educator someday. She makes good grades, is a history enthusiast, a member of her high school's student council and a regular at book club.
Brown is also black, and while that has nothing to do with her ability to be a skilled teacher, she believes it could be a benefit to some of her future students.
“As a student, you want to have a teacher that you can somewhat relate to, and I'm not saying I can't relate to white teachers, but I think students can relate better to teachers who look like them,” Brown said. "At the very least, there aren't a lot of teachers who look like me ... and maybe that will change."
In a state where more than half of all public school students are nonwhite, nearly 86 percent of Oklahoma teachers are white, a rate higher than the national average.
Brown's theory that nonwhite students can benefit from having a nonwhite teacher is supported by multiple studies showing dropout rates decrease for black students with at least one black teacher, and that having at least one nonwhite teacher can make a nonwhite student more likely to consider a teaching career.
"It can be hard for (nonwhite) students to see themselves becoming a teacher, but we want to change how they see themselves and how they view the teaching profession," said Elon Dancy, associate dean for academic inclusion and community engagement at the University of Oklahoma's Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education.
Find Your Future
Dancy is a co-director of the Find Your Future Summer Education Camp the university hosts to get more nonwhite high school students to consider the teaching profession.
Panel discussions, group projects and insight into applying to college make up the free weeklong camp, which hosted 15 students last year.
“We have a preference for juniors and seniors, but we've had ninth-grade and 10th-grade students in the program. We try to reach them early," said Krystal Golding-Ross, who is also a co-director of the camp.
Brown attended the camp last year and has been admitted to the University of Oklahoma, where she will study education in the fall.
She said the camp helped solidify her interest in the teaching profession and alleviated some of the fears she had about making lesson plans and working with students.
"There's a need for teachers right now in Oklahoma," Brown said. "I want to help, but I also love learning, and I feel like as a teacher you can always learn new things."
Schools have recognized the importance of having more diversity among teachers, and some schools and districts have looked for ways to intentionally hire nonwhite educators.
Oklahoma City Public Schools is hiring more Hispanic and bilingual teachers through its bilingual teacher pipeline program. Through a partnership with the University of Central Oklahoma and the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, current bilingual teacher assistants have a chance to earn their degree and teaching certificate.
But some school leaders say they are limited to the pool of applicants in front of them, which might lack diversity.
However, some schools have used the emergency certified teaching option to increase diversity.
Less than a third of teachers in Oklahoma City Public Schools are nonwhite, compared to more than half of all emergency certified teachers.
Statewide, 32 percent of emergency certified teachers are nonwhite, compared to just 14 percent of all certified teachers, according to data from the state Department of Education.
Gregg Garn, dean and presidential professor at the OU college of education, said increasing diversity among certified teachers is best done through recruiting more diverse students to teacher preparation programs.
"We need to do a better job of purposefully recruiting students," Garn said. "We feel like our summer camp is a great investment in exposing these kids to great teachers that will spark an interest."
Leaders of the camp at the University of Oklahoma said the program is working. While just 25 percent enter the camp claiming teaching as a career they are considering, 75 percent leave with the profession under consideration, according to surveys the university conducts.
"It changes their perspectives and what they think is possible," said Dancy.
Demographics of Oklahoma teachers
• White: 86 percent
• Native American: 6 percent
• Black: 3 percent
• Hispanic: 2 percent
• Two or more: 2 percent
Source: State Department of Education