03.23.21

Diversifying the Teacher Pipeline

By Erica DeCuir

a black male teacher working individually with a young, male student while another young, female student works at her desk

Dr. Erica DeCuir is an associate professor of Teacher Education at Albany State University where she works to maintain a diverse teacher pipeline to serve high-needs secondary schools throughout Southwest Georgia. In addition, she advocates for educational policy reform while helping education majors fulfill their dreams of becoming a teacher. Here is her story.

Introduction

By most accounts, Albany, Georgia is considered a fragile community — one that contains “high proportions of residents who face daily economic struggles and possess limited opportunities for social mobility” (Gallup, 2019, p. 3). People often mistake the city for Albany, New York, but this Albany is a small urban center located in rural Southwest Georgia. It reflects many dualities: it’s both city and country, an economic hub yet economically depressed, and a beacon for higher education with the state’s highest unemployment rate (Pirani, 2018).

According to the latest U.S. Census (2018), the city includes about 75,000 residents who are approximately 73 percent African-American, 23 percent White, 2 percent Hispanic, and 2 percent multiracial. The estimated median household income is $31,843; the median household income in Georgia is $52,977. Almost 33 percent of Albany residents live in poverty. The area’s poverty contributes to a minimal production of “locally grown” teachers.

Most of the teachers are transplants from the Atlanta metropolitan area, drawn to the city as college students attending Albany State University, the local historically black university. As an associate professor of teacher education at Albany State, this is where my story begins. I oversee middle and secondary teacher preparation programs, and my mission is to maintain a diverse teacher pipeline to serve high-needs secondary schools throughout Southwest Georgia.

Challenges

My role is not an easy one; recruiting college students with large student loan debt to work as underpaid teachers in rural Georgia is a huge challenge. I have had to develop strong teacher leadership skills to engage other departments in promoting secondary education among science, math, history, and English majors. I also coordinate conferences and symposiums to attract students to the profession.

Retention is the second challenge. Heavy state regulations for Georgia teacher certification makes it difficult for every education major to become a teacher. In addition to teacher certification exams for entry to and exit from the teacher preparation program, the many hours required to perform clinical practice in local schools prevents them from obtaining full-time employment.

To retain students, I have found innovative ways to leverage resources at the University, from locating scholarships and institutional funding to coordinating course schedules that free up entire days for part-time or freelance work. These experiences have shaped my views on policymaking in teacher education, which tend to disadvantage poorer students. Education majors in Georgia incur costs for teacher certification exams, test preparation or tutoring fees, transportation expenses for traveling to practicum school sites, and other licensure requirements such as edTPA (a $300 performance-based assessment). Students living or working in fragile communities like Albany struggle to meet these financial demands while paying for both college and living expenses. They attend college to improve their socio-economic status, not sink deeper into economic despair.

Solutions

“There are far too many economic burdens placed on future teachers and I use my voice to argue for a reversal in educational policy.”

I volunteer for state-level meetings and task forces that shape new policies, participate in letter writing campaigns to local politicians, and encourage education majors to contact their state representatives.

I am passionate in my advocacy; high regulation plus high costs discourage many good teachers from working in needy school districts within Southwest Georgia.

Outcomes

“I know the impact of my advocacy has helped many education majors to fulfill their dreams of becoming a teacher.”

I’ve received countless emails, text messages, and hand-written notes from students over the years, accompanied by pictures of smiling kids in classrooms.

My advice to any teacher educator working in fragile communities is to get to know the intimate needs of education majors — their transportation, housing, and mental health needs — and customize teaching programs to adjust to their lives. This may include arranging carpools, blocking course schedules, and using digital software to complete practicum hours. It may also mean flexible deadlines, reserving class time for homework assistance, and virtual office hours to assist students in completing class projects.

Dr. Erica DeCuir is an associate professor of Teacher Education at Albany State University. Her research centers on culturally-responsive teaching, K-12 teacher preparation, and the professional development of college and university faculty. She is the founding director of the Summer Learning Academy, a STEM-based summer enrichment program that promotes culturally-responsive practices for teaching STEM to culturally and linguistically diverse learners. She is a Chancellor’s Learning Scholar (2018-2019), the Albany State Teacher of the Year (2018-2019) Governor’s Teaching Fellow (2016-2017), College of Education’s Teacher of the Year (2017), and Curriculum Internationalization Faculty Fellow (2016).

This article originally appeared in the Center for Educational Opportunity’s white paper “A Sacred Space: 12 Expert Teachers Share Stories of Resilience, Success and Leadership.”