U.S. first lady Jill Biden on Monday urged students attending historically Black N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro to consider a teaching career.
Surrounded by elementary school students from the university’s new Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (S.T.E.M.)-themed Aggie Academy, Biden said students of color deserve teachers who “look like them and who can understand their paths.”
All students benefit when schools employ teachers from diverse backgrounds, Biden said.
“To better serve all of our students, our classrooms need diverse perspectives and the chance to learn from teachers of every single background and that’s why we’re here today to recruit you,” Biden said.
The first lady is a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College.
N.C. A&T is one of three minority-serving colleges recently selected to partner with the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program in hopes of increasing the number of students of color who train to become teachers. The other two are Fayetteville State University and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. They joined five predominately white colleges and universities already offering the program.
Teaching Fellows is a merit-based, loan-forgiveness program that provides up to $8,250 annually for up to four years to students who agree to teach in the fields of special education or S.T.E.M. in public schools.
Biden acknowledged the challenges of recruiting teachers due to expensive student loans, low salaries, large class sizes and safety concerns.
Many educators have made the tough decision to walk away from the profession, Biden said.
“If we want to add more bright, talented people into this field, if we want educators to be able to do what they do best, we have to give them the support that they or you all deserve,” Biden said. “We have to come to places like North Carolina A&T and say, we need you.”
Last month, North Carolina began the school year short by a reported figure of 4,400 teachers. There is a growing national debate about the severity of a national teacher shortage and its causes and whether one really exists.
The first lady said teachers make the best recruiters.
“We have to use our teacher voice to make people listen and let the world know what this work means to us and how we change lives every single day,” Biden said.
Biden was joined by the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to kick off the Department of Education’s “Road to Success Bus Tour.” The week-long, multi-state road trip will showcase the ways school communities are helping students recover from the pandemic and thrive. Biden and Cardona also visited Tennessee on Monday to highlight ways states and districts are recruiting and preparing qualified educators into the classroom.
Cardona said too many students will be denied the opportunity to reach their full potential because of who they are and where they live.
“Some of that is explicit discrimination,” Cardona said.” But we also have to acknowledge the ways in which the denial of access and equity in education happens sometimes in the shadows. It often takes the form of low expectations of some students because of their race or where they come from.”
He said low expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to fewer resources and fewer pathways and roads to success for students of color.
“HBCUs like A&T are built on defying these expectations and raising the bar for their students and the results speak for themselves,” Cardona said.
N.C. A&T is the largest of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities with more than 13,500 students. It graduates more Black engineers than any other school in the nation and produces more Black bachelor’s degree graduates in agriculture, agriculture operations and related sciences than any other campus in the nation.
Jaden Seay, a sophomore education student from Woodbridge, Virginia, said he attended predominately Black and Hispanic K-12 schools but was often the only student of color in advanced courses.
He said the few Black teachers he had assured him that he belonged in those courses.
“They were the ones who inspired me to be greater,” Seay said. They are the ones who inspired me to teach and they are what brought me to an HBCU.”
After graduation, Seay said he will join the 2% of Black men in America who have chosen teaching as a profession.
“I will continue this work of advancing education equity for greater justice,” Seay said. “To reach this goal, I will teach in underserved communities and be the teacher I wish I’d had as a young child. Representation matters.”
More than 80% of the state’s teachers are white, while 52% of students are minorities.
The importance of diversity in the teaching profession has been widely debated in education circles. Some studies show that Black students are more likely to graduate high school and attend college if they have just one Black teacher in elementary school.
Biden’s visit comes the same day the U.S. Department of Education announce that it is awarding $25 million in Teachers Quality Partnership (TQP) grants to help the nation’s public schools “recruit, prepare, develop and retain a strong, effective and diverse teacher workforce.”
The awards will go to universities and nonprofits that prepare teachers. Four North Carolina universities — High Point University, Winston-Salem State, East Carolina and UNC-Charlotte — will receive more than $4.5 million.
The TQP program funds teacher preparation programs in high-need communities at colleges and universities for the undergraduate, “fifth-year” level, and for teaching residency programs for individuals new to teaching with strong academic and professional backgrounds
“At the U.S. Department of Education, we recognize the value of supporting our nation’s educators, and we have a responsibility to providing resources and opportunities that promote a diverse educator workforce,” Cardona said in a news release. “These programs help prepare, place, develop, and retain effective teachers and leaders in our schools and classrooms. Our students need quality educators now more than ever to address their academic and mental health needs.”
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