Anthony Arnone | February 02, 2023

Representation in Education

New funding aims to increase the number of teachers with historically underrepresented backgrounds to better reflect the diversity of our community.

Teacher candidate teaching students in classroom

New York State provided $155,596 in funding to SUNY Brockport to help increase the diversity of teachers from underrepresented backgrounds in Rochester and surrounding areas.

“Teachers in this area are predominately white and we know that does not properly reflect the kids in each classroom,” said Chris Wilkens, Chair of the Department of Education and Human Development. “The goal is to have a more diverse stream of teachers, not just in Rochester, but everywhere.”

Brockport is using funding from the Teacher Opportunity Corps II (TOC II) to provide financial support, mentoring, and professional development to help increase the retention of students who reflect the diversity of our community, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Teacher and students exploring the globe.

Khadigeh Albaram student teaching at an elementary school.

This is not the first program funded by New York State with the goal to increase teacher diversity. In 1987, the Teacher Opportunity Corps I had a similar goal. Diantha Watts ’94, Assistant Professor of Educational Administration, was part of the original initiative Corps while she was a student at Brockport. While the program has changed over the years, the core remains the same – creating a community within the diverse cohort of students.

“There is something about a diverse cohort that is really important,” said Watts. “I am still friends with a lot of the people from my cohort today and I think it was instrumental in attracting people of color to the teaching profession.”

Another key piece to the initiative is the professional mentoring and career guidance provided by current teachers in the Monroe County school system. The TOC II currently has nine mentors that are all part of historically underrepresented groups.

“I’ve always said that exposure is everything, but I couldn’t have understood how potent it could be,” said childhood education major Khadigeh Albaram. “Students I teach come from a variety of backgrounds. As a Muslim educator, I offer hope to my students, especially those who share a similar identity.”

The mentors offer unique guidance on how to teach as a member of historically underrepresented groups in our community and provide a model for what our education program expects out of our teacher candidates.

“We partnered with specific schools to find teachers that can serve as mentors,” said Tracy Feaster, Director of Partnership Development and Field Placement. “We go through a rigorous process to match our students with a mentor and school that suits them.”

Teacher Pipeline Innovation Project

Alongside the TOC II, Watts and Wilkens also serve as Co-PIs on the Teacher Pipeline Innovation Project grant. The grant was awarded $86,628 from the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation to explore different financial support models for students to use throughout 2022. The project explored three different approaches:

  • Candidate Support Fund: To test whether providing modest direct cash support to eligible underrepresented teacher candidates can promote program completion or teacher certification.
  • Clinical Fellows Fund: To test whether paying eligible in-the-pipeline underrepresented teacher candidates a living wage could promote program completion or teacher certification.
  • Mentor Innovation Fund: To test whether non-traditional clinical experiences could promote faster time to degree, retention, or program completion among underrepresented teacher candidates.

“Our theory is that when you are a student teacher, you can’t work another job because it is so time-consuming. Many of the students said the funding was helpful because they could spend more time on their coursework.”
Diantha Watts ’94

Watts and Wilkens are currently applying for another year of funding for the grant in 2023. Funding for the TOC II extends through the end of the 2025-2026 academic year. Results from the grant and TOC II will be used to inform local and statewide policymaking that could diversify New York’s streamline of teachers.

“We know that black teachers are more effective for teaching black students. The hope is to create a stream of people that enter the teaching profession and continue on to teach in underrepresented areas,” said Wilkens.