I will never forget the time I attended a teaching job expo in Valley Forge, PA. Districts from around the state had laid out the welcome mat, eager to attract the newest and brightest teachers into their ranks.
I stood among the crowds, these hundreds of people ready to join this most important and dearest of professions, and several realities struck me at once.
The first was how long the lines were for some districts, and the lack of lines at others.
Affluent, predominantly white school districts had lines that curved through the auditorium, eager faces adorned with anxiety as they saw the physical representation of how slim their chances were of getting their sought after placement.
How long was the line for the School District of Philadelphia – a district brimming with talented Black and Brown children?
The second thing I noticed was the demographics of the folks eager to become teachers.
This was not surprising. After all, Pennsylvania ranks last in the nation in teacher diversity, with 96% of its teaching force being White serving a student population that is 33% of color. In Philadelphia, despite its diversity, the percentages of Black teachers has dropped from 40% to less than a quarter. And, according to state officials, the number of Latinx teachers has been almost stagnant.
Now is not the time for small, incremental change.
Now is the time to ensure equity in who we attract to teach our children, and how we prepare them.
But, we don’t just need more diversity, we need better preparation. To be well-prepared, we need to expand our city’s teacher residencies. We need more of our teachers to begin their careers as teacher residents, benefiting from gradual on-ramps with highly effective mentor teachers and relevant course-work designed to prepare them with the theory and practicality needed to be effective Philadelphia teachers – a basic promise to parents of school-aged children in our city.
We need more teachers of color, providing mirrors for our students instead of windows.
We need teacher preparatory programs whose price tags don’t automatically exclude first generation college graduates who already carry the burden of exorbitant student loans.
We need teacher preparatory programs that attract students who attended Philadelphia schools themselves, building on research demonstrating the benefits of teachers having connections with the communities in which they teach.
We need a robust and comprehensive plan that tackles the lack of diversity in our teaching ranks. A plan that includes effective traditional and alternative certification programs and approaches. Pennsylvania’s inspiring and promising Aspire to Education program is one of these programs and, as a city, we need to ensure that it is fully complemented by local efforts.
Our issues are large and complex enough to require us to flank the teacher shortage and lack of teacher diversity by using a comprehensive approach to ensure we fulfill basic tenets of the School District of Philadelphia’s crucial Anchor Goals:
- 100% of students will graduate ready for college or career.
- 100% of positions are filled by great principals, teachers, and employees.
For all of these reasons, I am proud to partner with RelayGSE as a partner and ally in the fight for educational justice in Philadelphia and fully endorse their teacher residency program along with other teacher residency programs in Philadelphia.
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.