Service-Learning Mentoring: One Answer to the Minority Teacher Shortage

by Cynthia Sims - November 09, 2006

All teachers, but particularly minority teachers and teacher education students, have a civic responsibility to address the minority teacher shortage before teachers of color become an extinct population in the field of education.

In the past decade, there has been great concern about the decrease in minority teachers and teacher education faculty, as well as the impact this may have on K-12 and teacher education students.  Some researchers believe minority students are more successful in the classroom when their teachers reflect their racial or ethnic group (The Collaborative, 2004; Nuby & Doebler, 2000).  Others believe minority teachers are beneficial to everyone (Gordon, 2005; Gursky, 2002), and their presence can help create an awareness of and appreciation for diversity. If these theories are true, students unwillingly forfeit crucial learning opportunities due to the minority teacher shortage. And, although many programs and policies have been proposed, funded, and implemented to address the need for minority teachers, more initiatives are necessary to ensure the field of teacher education increases in diversity at the rate of the diversity growth in the United States. Service-learning is one approach that can introduce prospective minority teachers to the field and prepare them to enter and succeed in teaching careers.

The National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force (the Collaborative), comprised of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), American Council on Education (ACE), Association of Teacher Educators (ATE), Community Teachers Institute (CTI), National Education Association (NEA) and Recruiting New Teachers (RNT), was created to advance issues of teacher diversity into the education policy debate, at both state and national levels.  In October 2004, the Collaborative disseminated the Assessment of Diversity in America’s Teaching Force report, which discussed “an important first step toward creating a truly qualified, diverse teacher workforce that meets the needs and potential of all public school students” (p. 4).  Major findings included: an increase in students of color without an increase in teachers of color; “the larger the percentage of students of color is, the greater the disparity with the percentage of teachers of color” (p. 5); “students of color tend to have higher academic, personal, and social performance when taught by teachers from their own ethnic groups” (p. 6); and “much more research is needed on the impact of practices that may facilitate or obstruct the entry of teachers of color into the profession” (p. 8).  

Some of the recommendations included enacting more legislation to increase and support the number of minority teachers both in the pipeline and in the classroom; promoting “strategies for increased retention of both diverse students and diverse teachers” (p. 10); and providing meaningful resources to programs that improve the recruitment and training of teachers of color.

The literature on the minority teacher shortage reflects the findings of the aforementioned report; therefore, several programs have been developed to recruit and support new teacher education students.  Programs such as the Tom Joyner Foundation’s Teacher Licensure Scholarship Program offer financial support for this very reason.  There are even federal loan programs, i.e., student loan forgiveness for serving as a teacher in poverty-stricken communities.  All of these programs, and those like them, have positive outcomes, yet the funding for many becomes depleted, and therefore unable to support large numbers of participants. The Tom Joyner Foundation, for example, currently has a message on the National Education Association (NEA) website that reads “All participating HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] are full and are no longer accepting applications [for the Teacher Licensure Scholarship Program]. Please check back regularly for updated information” (NEA, 2006).  If programs like these are to make a significant impact, financial resources are continuously required.  For this reason, programs that focus on human resources deserve consideration.  Human resources are equally important when addressing the minority teacher shortage.

Neither the Collaborative report nor the literature provides recommendations for utilizing human resources via service activities.  Service-learning and community service have not been mentioned, yet service programs have the potential to increase minority participation and success in teacher education.  The literature also focuses on adult learners, i.e., career changers who want to enter the teaching field.  Service-learning targets younger learners, which allows prospective teachers to be identified at earlier ages so that they have more opportunities for preparing for the field of education.

Service-learning is not new to the teacher education discipline (Vaughn, Seifer, & Vye Mihalynuk, 2004).  “A 1998 survey by the National Service-Learning in Teacher Education Partnership reported that nearly one fifth of the teacher education programs in the nation offered service-learning opportunities and many others were interested in developing these programs” (Vaughn et al., 2004, p. 1).  Service-learning is a teaching methodology that integrates meaningful service to the community into an academic course or curriculum.  The purpose of service-learning should not be confused with the student teaching requirement for teacher education.  College students and K-12 students may participate in service activities that allow them to apply and practice course concepts while addressing a community need.  In this instance, the community need is the shortage of minority teachers, teacher education students, and faculty.  Service-learning programs can be designed to address this problem, and very little cost is required.  This is done by instructing students to focus on their responsibility as citizens to improve the field of education and increase educational opportunities for all students.  Teacher education students can recruit high school students to pursue education as a college major and mentor them in areas that will help prepare them for the discipline, e.g., leadership skills, oral presentation skills, and writing skills.  In return, high school students can complete service activities that inspire elementary and middle schools students to aspire to become teachers, utilizing the skills they developed while working with their own service-learning college student mentors.  Each mentor, both the teacher education and high school student, receive credit for the learning outcomes of their service-learning activities.

A current service-learning mentoring program is the Enhancing Minority College and Career Preparation (EMCCaP) Program, offered at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC).  Although it does not focus exclusively on teacher education, it serves as a model for teacher education programs that want to partner with high schools.  In this program, five minority Workforce Education and Development graduate students are completing service-learning activities as required in a Special Investigations course titled Minorities in Higher Education.  These graduate students mentor nine local minority high school students in areas such as: college selection; preparing for college admissions (studying for the ACT/SAT); time management and study skills; leadership development; and career exploration.  The mentors bring the students together to study, and they also take them to meet professionals in the fields in which they desire to work.  The high school students are also required to complete volunteer activities with K-8 students (they passed out school supplies and played games with children at a community Back-to-School Bash).  These relationships have created interest in youth development and teaching, as expressed by some of the graduate students and high school participants.  Imagine how high engagement in teacher education could be if the entire focus of the mentoring program was preparing for the teaching profession, and the number of participants was significantly increased.

This model program can be duplicated via several required teacher education courses.  Most, if not all, teacher education departments require courses in cultural foundations of education, social and historical issues in education, and/or social and cultural influences on learning.  These courses lend themselves to exploring the implications of the minority teacher shortage via service-learning.  The Collaborative’s (2004) report recommends utilizing these types of courses and reads: “Without understanding the historical, social, and political underpinnings of how disenfranchised groups have been systematically excluded from receiving a fair and equitable education, there will continue to be a shallow approach to understanding diversity issues” (p. 9).  The overarching goal is to ensure students explore issues of race, access, equity, and diversity in education, as well as promote the teaching profession to high school students as a means to address the issues.  They may feel more committed to pursuing teaching as a career and will begin to see value in this role and how they can affect change in their own and others’ communities.


Service-learning mentoring programs that partner teacher education students with high school students, who then go on to mentor middle and elementary school students, demonstrate a strong utilization of human resources to market the field of education.  If it is true that students of color perform better in school when their teachers are of the same race/ethnicity, it may be safe to say students who are mentored by students from their own ethnic group will perform better in school and decide to choose teaching as their career.  

As scholars continue to explore the minority teacher shortage, attention should also be given to the lack of minority educational administrators.  The Service-Learning Mentoring model can serve to introduce and prepare minority students for careers as principals and superintendents.  Educational administration students can participate in service-learning activities that will encourage younger students to aspire beyond teaching and become leaders in education.

All teachers, but particularly minority teachers and teacher education students, have a civic responsibility to address the minority teacher shortage before teachers of color become an extinct population in the field of education.  Although the benefits are received by students and teachers of all races, teachers of color should lead this effort. Utilizing students as human resources in the form of service-learning mentors can positively shape the recruitment, retention, and preparation of minority teachers.  


Gordon, J. (2005, November/December).  In search of educators of color. Leadership, 35(2), 30-35.

Gursky, D. (2002, February). Recruiting minority teachers. American Teacher, 86(5), 10-11, 19.

National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force. (2004). Assessment of diversity in America’s teaching force.  Retrieved October 29, 2006, from

National Education Association. (2006). Tom Joyner Foundation and the National Education Association Joint Project: Teacher Licensure Scholarship Program. Retrieved October 31, 2006, from

Nuby, J. F. & Doebler, L. (2000, July/October). Issues affecting the recruitment and retention of Black students in teacher education. The Negro Educational Review, 51(3/4), 125-137.

Vaughn, R. L., Seifer, S. D., & Vye Mihalynuk, T. (2004, May). Teacher education & service-learning. Community-Campus Partnerships for Health, p. 1-5.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 09, 2006 ID Number: 12835, Date Accessed: 10/26/2021 4:17:17 AM

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