A Natural Fit: Supporting After-School Staff of Color in Teacher Pipelines
The need to provide a strong and diverse teacher workforce for all students is particularly relevant now as school and district leaders are developing plans to address unfinished learning and help students catch up after the disruptions due to COVID-19. Yet, only 20% of teachers in the U.S. are teachers of color. Moreover, the lack of diversity of the teacher workforce relative to the student population (more than half of all students in the national public school population identify as a person of color) is one of the key drivers of inequity in education, even as states and districts continue to invest in strategies to increase the racial diversity of their workforces.
One underutilized strategy for increasing the racial diversity of the teacher workforce is to recruit and prepare those who have experience working in after-school or out-of-school time (OST) programs to enter the teaching profession. The after-school/ OST staff population is racially and ethnically diverse and has the meaningful experiences, e.g., leading groups of young people, and the commitment to support students and families in local communities across the country. However, very few states and districts invest in specific programming dedicated to recruiting and preparing this population to become full-time teachers, and few teacher preparation programs focus directly on this population to leverage their experiences to create a strong and diverse workforce. This is a missed opportunity.
Our report, A Natural Fit: Supporting After-School Staff of Color in Teacher Pipelines, examines the experiences of current and former teacher candidates of color with after-school or OST experience to provide insights into how teacher preparation programs and state policymakers can create the right programmatic experiences and conditions to recruit after-school/OST staff into the teaching profession and prepare them for success.
We focus specifically on the experiences of candidates in what are considered non-traditional preparation pathways, such as teacher residencies and Grow Your Own programs. These programs tend to attract and retain a more diverse pool of teachers, with deeper connections to local school communities than traditional teacher education pathways.
State policymakers, as well as those leading teacher preparation programs, have an opportunity to invest in strategies and adopt policies to build this potentially high-leverage pipeline of teachers of color into the profession. To do so effectively, they must not only increase targeted recruitment of after-school/OST staff but also structure programming to draw upon this group’s experiences while they’re enrolled in preparation programs.
How did Their After-School/OST Experiences Influence Their Decision to Become Teachers?
Most participants we interviewed became interested in teaching long before they entered the teacher preparation programs. Others developed a teaching interest while working as paraprofessionals or other classified staff in schools, or after becoming involved in their own children’s schooling. Some participants pivoted away from education majors during their undergraduate years, only to be drawn back into the profession later on, because they saw it as an opportunity to make a positive impact on young people in their communities.
“Since I was little, I wanted to be a teacher, but I ended up getting an English degree. I joined [after-school/OST program] last year, and I was a tutor at a school. I absolutely just loved the environment. I loved being that influence for my students. I loved allowing the students to see someone that looked like them in a different light.”
Consistent with the broader literature about what motivates teachers of color to become educators, we found that study participants have a deep commitment to serving students of color and their communities. Importantly, for many, their passion and commitment arose from their after-school/OST experiences and were reinforced by them. Working largely in communities of color — some in the very communities in which they had grown up — they aimed to continue to do so as teachers. They see themselves as potential role models for the students and want to support students of color through nurturing relationships.
“I saw a lot of myself in [the youth served in after-school]. I grew up that same way. When I was their age, I wasn’t really allowed to speak Spanish [in school], so I was the quiet kid. Now, it’s more acceptable, and now we’re able to provide just a lot more resources. So, I feel like we can really, really make an impact.”
How did Having After-School/OST Experience Help Teacher Candidates as They Went Through Preparation Programs?
Almost all the participants we interviewed agreed that their after-school/OST work made their time in the teacher preparation programs easier — honing important skills in relationship-building with students and families, classroom community building, and instructional management. They also shared a deep understanding of the varied strengths and needs of students of color.
- Building relationships with students and families
- Instruction skills – classroom management, lesson planning
- A deeper understanding of the varied strengths and needs of students of color
- High demand for teachers with after-school/OST experience
“It was different in because I had that experience of connecting with students, especially students from different backgrounds. My other colleagues who didn’t really have experience had a harder time being able to teach the students because they couldn’t make that connection.”
“We had groups of students, we had lesson plans, unit plans, curricula, we had to internalize There was professional development on teacher voice, teacher presence, warm-strict, classroom management. We weren’t trained as though we were after-school babysitters. We were trained like we were teachers. “
“[The after-school/OST workers] know the students because they grew up in the same neighborhoods. They know the same police officer s. They know the corner stores, they know the supermarkets, they know the libraries, they know what students have access to and what they don’t. So as far as connecting with the actual students, the families, the parents, they thrive. Because it’s one thing to know the school, but to also know your community.” – Program Partner
How do Teacher Preparation Programs Support Participants who Have After-School/OST Experience?
Most participants felt comfortable and welcome in the programs as people of color. In addition, they recalled conversations about the need for more teachers of color, which they largely found supportive and encouraging. They also appreciated the honest conversations about challenges they might face as educators of color in the school system.
“They talked to us a lot about knowing that there’s a lot of children in disadvantaged communities that have certain needs, and it’s really important for them to be able to have a teacher who can really support them with those needs and be relatable to them.”
Participants who identify as Black did not feel as welcome as non-Black participants. Several Black participants struggled with conversations about race in their programs, describing them as predominantly White facing. Some felt their programs focused heavily on educating White participants about how to work with students of color, while ignoring or generalizing the perspectives of people of color. Although few participants in our sample felt this way, the lack of support they experienced as Black teacher candidates was so significant that it led some of them to resign from their respective programs.
“The program is doing a very good job of making White people feel comfortable in urban environments, but it’s not doing a good enough job of making us feel comfortable. I guess they feel like, because our students are people of color and this is kind of our environment, that we should be okay already.”
Achieving passing scores on standardized tests required for certification is a well-documented barrier to diversifying the teacher workforce. This barrier is by no means specific to the after-school/OST worker population; nonetheless, it came up for many of the participants with whom we spoke. Almost all the pathways in the study provide test preparation support to participants struggling with the exams, including group review, individual tutoring, and edTPA coaching edTPA, is a national, subject-specific assessment used in many states that requires teacher trainees to submit a portfolio of work. Many participants reflected that test preparation removed a major obstacle in their journey to becoming teachers. Some participants considered test preparation the single most important support that their programs provided.
“The tutoring thing was a huge help. Sometimes, that’s what after-school staff, needs—not just a workshop, but more like a class…Because you can want it and everything, but if you’re not able to pass those tests, then you’re just simply not going to become a teacher…I know a lot of after-school staff loves kids, loves teaching and all this stuff. So, the drive is there. It’s just a matter of having the tools for it.”
All the programs in our study provide mentorship and coaching to participants, often in the form of in-class observation and coaching during instructional periods with students. They also offer less-formal opportunities to address questions on everything from curriculum design to career planning. Overall, participants appreciated learning from high-quality instructors and coaches, receiving individualized support and feedback, and working with supportive mentor teachers in host schools.
“My Black host teacher … she was just kind of pointing out the things that they wouldn’t tell you, but just noting that the kids are going to relate to me differently than they’re going to relate to our non-Black fellow worker.”
Few programs specifically recruit after-school staff, with OUSD’s After School to Teacher Pipeline being the only one in our sample to do so exclusively. And few recruitment relationships exist between after-school/OST providers and nontraditional teacher preparation programs; fewer than half of the programs in our study have recruitment relationships with after-school/OST providers. Still, several program leaders mentioned that they value the skills, experiences, and community connections that after-school/OST workers bring and would like to recruit more after-school/OST workers.
“Because teaching is a commitment to young people, right? They’re not just like shooting in the dark. [They’ve] worked with young people and liked it. That makes me think that [they] will like it.” – Program Leader
IMPLICATIONS FOR STATE POLICY
After-school/OST workers are a promising source of effective, diverse teachers with strong ties to their school communities and a clear commitment to students. While more research is needed, we recommend that states do the following to support and promote the recruitment, preparation, hiring, and retention of after-school/OST staff as teachers.
- Allocate resources to establish and strengthen recruitment relationships between nontraditional teacher preparation programs and after-school/OST service providers.
- For example, states can invest in competitive grant opportunities to fund pipeline partnerships between non-traditional teacher preparation programs and after-school/OST programs. States can also create guidance on practices to strengthen these recruitment relationships, including Grow Your Own programming practices that are effective in creating a strong pipeline of after-school/OST staff into the profession.
- Increase investments in scholarships, loan forgiveness opportunities, and tuition reimbursements for teacher candidates with after-school/OST experience, with a particular focus on candidates of color and participants in Grow Your Own programs.
- Loan forgiveness and reimbursement programs should be tied to teaching for several years and/or in high-needs schools. Loan forgiveness, reimbursement, and scholarship opportunities should be intentionally advertised in after-school/OST settings.
- Adopt statewide guidelines and invest in supports for nontraditional teacher preparation pathways that include teacher licensure test preparation, and at least one year of mentor teacher support and coaching before participants enter the classroom as teachers of record.
- This practice is sought out by prospective participants and supports the recruitment and retention of teacher candidates.
- Develop guidance on effective programming and practices, based on nontraditional teacher preparation pathways that successfully attract and support after-school/OST staff of color.
- This should include anti-racist pedagogy as a central approach throughout the program and meaningful supports for participants of color that address the specific issues they are likely to encounter as educators. This should also include efforts to incorporate and discuss after-school/OST workers’ experiences and skills, particularly when it comes to classroom community building and establishing relationships with students.
- Include after-school/OST candidates in the paraprofessional category when defining participants who are eligible for state-led support to obtain teaching certification.
- Fund retention supports for alumni of nontraditional teacher preparation programs, including efforts to create and sustain affinity groups and professional learning opportunities.
- This can be done by making retention support for alumni a requirement for competitive grant funding to strengthen partnerships between districts and non-traditional teacher preparation pathways. This can also be achieved by increasing funding to current preparation pathways to develop robust alumni programming.
- Require nontraditional teacher preparation pathways to track and report on individuals with after-school/OST work experience as a differentiated group to begin developing an evidence base on this underexplored population of teacher trainees and learning how else they can be supported in their journeys to become teachers.