The Call to Teach: Urban Legends
Each day 8,000 American students drop out of high school. Over the course of a year, that amounts to 3 million total students who give up on the American right to education through 12th grade and decide they will be better off without a high school diploma. Within those numbers are even more telling statistics that show students of color and from low socio-economic brackets are dropping out in much greater numbers than their white middle- and high-class peers.
In my new book The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching I explore the “real world” of teaching, particularly how new educators are ill-prepared to face the challenges of teaching in urban settings. Traditional university programs for K-12 educators do not adequately prepare students for what awaits them in the urban schools of America where the achievement gap and dropout rates are highest. So how can this problem be remedied? In three ways, as a start:
Target urban backgrounds. Teachers with connections to urban locations and educations are prime candidates to return to these schools and make a difference. Universities are not doing enough to find these qualified future educators and then place them on specific tracks for career success at urban schools. There needs to be greater customization when it comes to college learning for future educators who understand firsthand the challenges that urban students face – and then job placement programs need to be built around the same concept.
Require urban student teaching. All educators-in-training should spend at least a few hours in an urban classroom, in addition to their other teaching assignments. Seeing urban challenges firsthand must be part of every educator’s path to a degree, even if he or she never teaches full time in such a classroom. I believe this would not only raise awareness of issues that tend to plague urban schools (like overcrowding and the impact of poverty on student performance) but may also inspire future teachers to want to teach in those settings. College programs must expose teacher-students to real-world urban settings in order to make progress past the social and academic issues that bring urban K-12 students down.
Reward urban teachers. The test-heavy culture of American K-12 classrooms puts urban teachers at a distinct advantage when it comes to resources and even lifelong salaries. If a teacher whose students score well on standardized tests is rewarded with more money and access to more learning materials, where does that leave the poor-performing educators? Instead of funneling more funds and learning help to teachers with student groups that are likely to do well, despite the teacher, urban teachers should be receiving the support. At the very least, the funding and attention should be evenly split. In almost every case, failing urban students and schools should never be blamed on the teacher. That mentality is what scares away many future educators who may otherwise have given urban teaching a try. There is too much pressure to perform and that leads to many urban teachers leaving their posts after the first year, or not even looking for those jobs in the first place.
Strong teaching in America’s urban schools is the key to overcoming dropout and achievement gap issues. With the right guidance, urban K-12 students can rise above their circumstances to be stand-outs in academics. They may even return the favor as teachers themselves one day. For urban teachers to succeed, however, they need more support and encouragement from their industry, government and society as a whole.
What do you think can be done to recruit more inspired educators into urban schools?