Tennessee Strives for Diversity Among Educators

Monday, March 20, 2006 | 06:00pm

Nashville, TN- The Tennessee Department of Education has embarked on a two-year project to improve the recruitment and retention of minority teachers across the state with the goal of maintaining a diverse teaching force reflective of Tennessee’s increasingly multi-cultural communities.

“Children need to identify with the leaders in their life,” Education Commissioner Lana Seivers said. “A positive bond empowers teachers to be the mentors who inspire students to work hard and achieve great things.”

A task force of state, local and higher education officials will:

1. compile successful models, locally and nationwide

2. develop a marketing campaign branding a diverse teaching force as the ideal

3. recommend ways to improve data collection tracking diversity

4. consider how to cultivate future minority teachers beginning in high school

“Given the current shortage of educators, especially minority educators, it is imperative we seek ways to educate and retain a high quality, diverse teaching workforce,” Tennessee Urban Education Specialist Gwen Watson said. “We must work together to make teaching in Tennessee attractive and rewarding and ensure there is always an adequate supply of exceptional teachers for the students of Tennessee.”

Several organizations have initiated separate efforts to encourage minority students to teach. The task force creates an essential venue to coordinate the most effective strategies, according to Watson.

The team is looking specifically at how to “grow” teachers who have a commitment to working in their home community, as well as encouraging successful paraprofessionals to pursue full licensure and a college degree. Potential strategies include enticing high schools to offer a class that introduces students to the teaching profession and financial incentives for paraprofessionals to go back to school.

Some higher education institutions have already dedicated funds to assist minority students in becoming teachers. Minority students are eligible through the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation for a $5,000 annual award in exchange for completing a teacher education program and teaching one year in a Tennessee public school. School districts also have different methods of attracting underrepresented groups to education professions.

The task force hopes their efforts will raise the visibility of the teaching profession as students consider possible careers; increase recruitment of diverse education leaders; and help grow existing grant programs. For more information, contact Gwen Watson at (615) 532-4710.

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