Community College Students Make Great Future Teachers: Where’s the Support?
by Rebecca Garte & Cara Kronen - March 07, 2022
In this commentary we discuss ways to support community college students in successfully becoming teachers. We argue that there is a great need for teachers who share similar backgrounds with the majority of public school students. These future teachers are poised to become advocates for students given that many entered the field of education for this purpose. However, practicum experiences often serve to alienate and marginalize community college education students. We contend that both 2 year and 4- year schools of education must commit to providing culturally responsive practicum experiences. We must strive to cultivate mentors for community college students among classroom teachers who can relate to them. We believe this would go a long way to increasing retention and certification rates of pre-service teachers of color.
As seen in the summer 2021 issue of New Directions in Community Colleges, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding an initiative to instill stronger professional disciplinary presence in community colleges. There was a convening of over 100 faculty representing 14 disciplines in January to further this work. Rowell et. al. discusses this initiative in detail. As a complement, the second essay focuses on one example of discipline-workteaching future educators--and the importance of community colleges in developing clear and supportive pathways for students to enter teaching as a career.
- Robin G. Isserles and David Levinson
Community college students majoring in education are more likely to be from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and from lower income families than preservice teachers enrolled in four-year colleges. Unfortunately, many of these students do not become teachers. Among teaching degree-seeking students in the United States, only 17% of teaching certifications are awarded to Black and Latinx students, despite their comprising 45% of public-school attendees (Paris & Alim, 2017). A strong research base supports the idea that children, especially those from communities with a history of experiencing the dual oppressions of racism and poverty, do better academically and social-emotionally when their teachers share a common cultural background (Ingersoll & May, 2011).
Community college students are uniquely positioned to be the future educators that our schools so desperately need. They enter the field of education with cultural competencies and responsive practices that are true to their own lived experiences. Many already think in terms of advocacy and activism when talking about their future career. However, at some point, between enrollment and when certification is earned, many leave, either changing majors or withdrawing from college altogether.
Research suggests that college cultures that create a feeling of belonging and connect students to the school beyond academics have better outcomes (Freeman et al., 2007). However, research on community college students rarely considers their own perceptions of being in college. Additionally, community college students are absent in the extensive research on what preservice teachers need to support their development.
We believe that the slow exodus of community college preservice teachers is largely due to experiences in practicum placement classrooms that mirror negative aspects of their own K12 education. Many had schooling experiences in which they felt invisible and disconnected from teachers or classmates. While some attrition may be due in part to inadequate preparation for college, a more significant barrier (and more easily rectified) is likely negative experiences with their education practicum. Most teacher education faculty are white, and therefore often select practicum classrooms where the teachers, administrators, and even the children are predominantly white. Although these school settings are chosen because they showcase model pedagogy, the lack of diversity often conveys to community college students that they do not belong in the field. When students of color feel out of place, or worse, experience biases and micro-aggressions, their future teacher identity may be inhibited. Practicum classrooms are often led by well-meaning educators who do not possess the skills or experience to relate to community college students in ways that would bring them into the culture of their classrooms. The cooperating teachers who serve as the first entry point to a future profession may unconsciously signal to students that the profession is out of reach, simply by reflecting white middle-class norms.
Our research examines students own stories and experiences of what brought them to pursue an education career. They report relating to teachers who positively impacted their lives during challenging childhoods or, alternatively, those who caused significant harm. Our community college teacher education students, over 90% young women of color, detailed being ridiculed for making mistakes with English, feeling shame related to poverty, having difficulty concentrating as a result of witnessing violence in their neighborhoods, and other childhood experiences that negatively colored their experience of education. In aspirational essays, our students also wrote about wanting to make a differenceto be like that teacher who meant so much to them, to be a bridge for families like their own to the schools and classrooms that intimidate them.
After more than a decade of supervising our students in seminars and practicums, reading their journal writing, and sitting in on their conversations with classmates, we have recognized that many of our students are hyper-attuned to signs of rejection, to spaces that signal to them in subtle but clear ways, You dont belong here or This isnt for you. Many are assigned to practicums at some of the citys most affluent early childhood and elementary schools. Often, the only people of color in these buildings, besides our students, are the nannies who come at pickup and drop-off. Students consistently note that they feel like perpetual outsiders in these spaces, making comments in class and in their journals like, Wow those kids are so advanced, I didnt even know classrooms like this existed, None of this is anything like what I had in school. By setting up such placements as models, teacher educators send a message to preservice teachers that the classrooms of their childhoods or the schools in their neighborhoods are inferior. In practicum placements at schools like this, we observed students playing a peripheral role, hovering on the outside of ongoing activities. Our community college students frequently mentioned during seminar that the cooperating teachers never spoke to them. Teachers in turn reported that our students were disengaged and seemed like they did not want to be there.
In 2016, we designed an experimental partnership with a racially and socioeconomically diverse Harlem public school. Over three years, we tracked the development of students who completed two semesters of practicum at this school as compared with the traditional, affluent placements. Our research suggests that completing early practicum with mentor teachers who share some similarities in cultural/socioeconomic backgrounds significantly impacted our students engagement with and commitment to the field (Garte & Kronen, 2020). We also argue that practicum should be a place where students get to experience themselves in the role of a teacher. The most meaningful practicum experiences occur when students perceive themselves as making a difference to the children in the class. Several factors allow this to happen: (1) being placed in a diverse setting with children of varied strengths, needs, and family backgrounds; (2) working with a cooperating teacher who saw themselves as a mentor to the student and was willing to support them in taking on leadership roles within the classroom; and (3) a classroom curriculum and philosophy consistent with what students were learning in their teacher education coursework (Garte & Kronen, 2021).
Creating this type of practicum requires recognizing that model teaching happens in low-income public schools, not just affluent schools. It requires rethinking coursework as well as cultivating relationships with schools and teachers that support future teacher identity development among community college students. This would happen most expeditiously if schools of education committed to hiring and retaining teacher educators of color. Furthermore, intentional support cannot end with community college. To become a teacher, our students must transfer and succeed within baccalaureate-degree-granting institutions. The schools to which our community college students transfer must view them from a strength-based perspective, value their cultural competencies, and build on their lived experiences within education. It is imperative that our four-year partners provide pathways for seamless transfer and credit accrual, graduation supports, and culturally sustaining mentorships. Our students often complete their formal student teaching within four-year programs at schools serving predominantly white and affluent families in New York City. Again, this signals to our students that exemplary education is for white children and that schools with mostly students of color are inadequate. These schools also typically have few teachers of color to act as mentors. Outstanding teaching and learning are happening in all types of schoolsat Title I schools and schools in the neighborhoods where our students live, far from wealthier areas. We are often approached by principals and school leaders in high-poverty, under resourced neighborhoods to help them get student teachers for their schools because they are never asked to host them.
To cultivate the teacher force that the diverse children in Americas public schools need, we must look deeply at how future teacher identity is formed and how teacher education programs choose practicum placements. It seems that for preservice teachers, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college, seeing themselves in the role of a professional requires a major shift in their identity. A catalyst for this shift is for them to experience themselves as important in the lives of children and as belonging in the world of professionals. Racially diverse and/or highly culturally competent cooperating teachers are key to this transformation. Together, both two-year and four-year colleges must support nontraditional teachers by showing them that they do indeed belong in the field of education.
Freeman, T. M., Anderman, L. H., & Jensen, J. M. (2007). Sense of belonging in college freshmen at the classroom and campus levels. The Journal of Experimental Education, 75(3), 203220.
Garte, R., & Kronen, C. (2020). You've met your match: Using culturally relevant pairing to cultivate mentoring relationships during the early practicum experience of community college preservice teachers. The Teacher Educator, 55(4), 347372.
Garte, R., & Kronen, C. (2021). From the margins of the classroom to mattering: How community college education students develop future teacher identities. The Educational Forum, 85(2), 175192.
Ingersoll, R. M., & May, H. (2011). The minority teacher shortage: Fact or fable? Phi Delta Kappan, 93(1), 6265.
Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (Eds.). (2017). Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world. Teachers College Press.