Opinion

When kids aren’t taught – about the teaching profession

Putting students on the right path

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Shani Dowell

Jake Ramsey caught the teaching bug as a college student working in a local Nashville high school program.

The former Vanderbilt Ingram scholar then eschewed a potential career in business for one in teaching. As a ninth-grade math teacher several years later, he started a program for students at his alma mater to tutor kids.

Chelsea Goodly entered the tutoring program three years after Ramsey had created it, and is now a second-year teacher in Nashville – on the very same campus where Jake is principal.

Not everyone is as lucky as these two Vanderbilt students when it comes to discovering their passion for teaching.

When I was an undergraduate at Howard University the idea of a prestigious strategic-consulting job drew me in. But seven years after embarking on the business path, I noticed a trend in the life experiences that truly made me happy.

Working with students in a local Boston high school, serving as a tutor in I Have a Dream, and working to help school leaders launch their schools at KIPP all helped illuminate my true passion: I began teaching middle school math in my hometown of Houston, Texas.

While I ultimately found my way to a job in education, many potentially great teachers are losing out on this profession because of a lack of exposure.

We can and should do so much more to expand paths for high school and college students who may be interested in teaching.

Related: One reason so many kids in Mississippi fail reading tests?

While 45 percent of students entering college saying they would consider a job in teaching, but only 10 percent of them end up in the profession, according to McKinsey. That means we lose 75 percent of folks who are interested in teaching.

In our current system we have far too many cities with teacher shortages. If we are going to create a pipeline of teachers who meet the needs of our schools and students, we must make some changes.

We need to encourage interested students to consider teaching.

We need to offer students paid internships to engage in and learn about teaching.

Related: What happens when teachers spend more time in a classroom — before teaching?

While cultivating a spirit of service in college is important, we also know that many students have very real financial obligations that make extensive volunteering commitments unrealistic. We need to create opportunities for those students to also fall in love with the teaching profession.

When we limit teaching and tutoring programs to volunteer opportunities, we deprive our future profession of the socioeconomic and racial diversity, as well as the prestige it deserves.

Lastly, we need to create policies and pathways that allow students to major in an area or subject of interest, while still gaining the experiences and instruction necessary to be teachers when they graduate.

That’s something Relay Graduate School of Education is working with local partners to develop now. This will take time as it requires some changes in policy – and some innovative thinking.

In the meantime, we have taken a cue from Jake and started the Relay Tutor Corps.

Related: Column Cries about national teacher shortages might be overblown

Recently launched in New Orleans and Houston, Relay’s program provides undergraduates the opportunity to work with middle school students throughout the year in a structured tutoring program. The middle school students receive extra academic support, and the college students are exposed to high-quality teacher training while being compensated and continuing with their studies.

This is just the beginning in terms of what’s possible. It’s also, hopefully, the start of an inspirational path to teaching for those involved.

It’s time we do more as a society to steer young people toward, rather than away from, teaching during their undergraduate years.

Shani Dowell is executive director, undergraduate pathways for Relay Graduate School of Education.

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Shani Dowell

Shani Dowell is executive director, undergraduate pathways for Relay Graduate School of Education. See Archive

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