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Helping Prep Teachers of Color
Linda Mah
/ Categories: Communications

Helping Prep Teachers of Color

New WMU Student Group Focuses on Peer Support

Hailey Timmerman said she knows that having a teacher of color always inspired her to do better in school.

“When I was little, I didn’t think about the importance of having a teacher of color, but I do remember feeling some connection with Mrs. Bolton, like if my hair was messed up, she knew how to fix it,” Timmerman said of her kindergarten teacher, who was African-American.

Having a teacher of color “makes me want to learn more,” she said. “It makes my participation and attendance go up, because I feel I’m heard and I feel someone actually understands me as more than just the academic part of the classroom.”

Now, she and some fellow Kalamazoo Public Schools alumni are working to help support developing teachers with Future Teachers of Color, a new student group at Western Michigan University.

Timmerman and William Wright, both 2017 Loy Norrix graduates, and Sarah Giramia, a 2015 Norrix graduate, are three of the founding members and officers for Future Teachers of Color, whose mission is “to bring together future educators of color at WMU with a focus on various topics related to career preparation, academic success, mentorship, community service outreach, and networking skills.”

All of the students are part of the Future Educator Program scholarship at WMU. The group is advised by Marcy Peake, director of diversity and community outreach initiatives in the College of Education and Human Development.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education magazine says that according to the U.S. Department of Education, about 50 percent of the public school student population is nonwhite, while 80 percent of public school teachers are white.

While there has been some growth in the numbers of nonwhite teachers, much of that growth is attributed to the rise in Hispanics and Asians among the ranks of teachers. The pattern of racial and ethinc diversity among principals mirrors that of teachers, with nonwhites making up about 20 percent of U.S. public school principals.

A Center for American Progress study titled “America’s Leaky Pipeline for Teachers of Color” said that has an impact on minority students, because teachers of color “have higher expectations of minority students, provide culturally relevant teaching, develop trusting relationships with students, confront issues of racism through teaching, and become advocates and cultural brokers.”

KPS has its own efforts to support future teachers of color. This year, the district launched the Young Educators Society, a high school club reminiscent of the old-fashioned Future Teachers of America clubs. Sheila Dorsey-Smith, assistant superintendent for human resources, said the plan is to expand the clubs to middle school and elementary school in future years.

The district has also increased efforts to grow teachers from current employees, such as paraprofessionals, Dorsey-Smith said on the WUOM-FM radio program “Stateside.” KPS is working with the Michigan Education Association to create associate’s programs and has approached Western Michigan University about helping those students then segue into bachelor’s programs at the university.

Timmerman, Wright, Giramia and several other students formed Future Teachers of Color this fall. The club has about two dozen members — although they are hoping to eventually involve the approximately 50 students of color in the education program. The group is emphasizing career preparation and peer support.

“I love the fact that I am with people in education who look like me. It gives us a sense of community to talk about things that matter to us and things we don’t typically hear,” Giramia said. “We just wanted to make sure we could create a support system for each other.”

Wright said that because there are few students of color — and they are spread across different years and programs — he’s hoping that the club will give students a chance to network outside of class and allow for upperclassmen to mentor younger WMU students.

Now in his junior year at WMU, Wright has long been interested in teaching as a career. As a high school student he participated in Education For Employment’s teaching program, in which he gained hands-on experience working with students in elementary schools. He likes to use a sports analogy when he talks about the need for teachers of color. Many students want to emulate athletes, because of the professionals they see in the NFL or the NBA, Wright said.

“We want to increase the number of teachers of color, and men in particular, so students can see us and see it as a field they can go into,” he said. “Just having one of two teachers of color, could have a huge impact on the students that see us in the classroom.”

Being in the classroom means not just that he is in front of them as a visual role model, but that he has a chance to be a strong voice for academic excellence.

“A lot of students I’ve worked with have seen me before in high school sports, but they need to see that it all starts in the classroom,” Wright said. “That’s the main thing I’ve tried to inspire in them — that education is your passport. You need to be a student before anything else.”

Giramia, who was born in Uganda and came to the United States when she was 6, was inspired to teach by her mother, who taught orphaned children. “I was able to see what education does for people who come from little and how it can elevate them,” she said. “What you learn is your education is one thing that no one can take from you.”

The students say they are hopeful that the dialogue around education, teaching, and teach ers — all teachers, not just teachers of color — is changing.

Timmerman became interested in teaching after a high school job teaching students about drug and violence prevention with Prevention Works. There she learned to love working with students.

“I hadn’t thought about education as a career before,” she said. “People say the pay is bad. You’re disrespected. Don’t do it. But when it’s in my heart and I feel if this is my purpose on earth, then no one is going to tell me not to do it.”

“People are always saying, if you want to make money, don’t go into education,” Giramia said. “But, I feel like the whole conversation around education is becoming more transparent about what is important.

“I think having more teachers like us going into the community and telling students that ‘I’m going into education’ and this is what it is can spark something in them. I think there’s self-efficacy and confirmation of their identity that comes from who teaches them.”

Cutline: Members of the Future Teachers of Color: Marcus Moore, DeShaun Cornelius, Sarah Giramia (VP), Jarae McCoy (Treasurer), Hailey Timmerman (Public Relations), and William Wright( President). Giramia, Timmerman, and Wright are Kalamazoo Public Schools alums. 

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