In California, especially in the San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose Bay Area, we face a perplexing conundrum, which is, “Why are we producing so few teachers of color when people of color represent the majority of California’s general population?” At San Francisco State University, for example, only 15% of our teacher candidates who complete our programs are Latinx, while they comprise 22% of our credential students and 35% of the SF State student body. Clearly there is leakage in our pathways to teacher credentialing. In fact, nationwide we have seen colleges of education produce 4% Latinx teacher candidates while college enrollment of Latinx students has been at about 19%, and bachelor’s graduation rates have been at 9%. Yes, the California State University system can celebrate that it is doing a much better job than the rest of the nation in terms of graduating people of color, represented by our Latinx colleagues. However, the CSU system and its respective campuses could still do more to recruit, retain, graduate, and most importantly, recommend more Latinx and Black students for credentials.
Bringing in students of color is not to be done at the expense of recruiting White and Asian students. Indeed, it is critical that all teachers, irrespective of ethnicity and identity, be an authentic ally to our children in public schools. Instead, we need to lean on the research that clearly indicates we must have greater diversity in our teacher workforce. By doing so, test scores increase, school persistence increases, dropout rates decrease, and school discipline is administered more fairly and equitably.
Further, when we admit more Latinx and Black teachers to our teacher preparation programs, we should maintain the highest standards at admission. All students in our public schools deserve quality teachers. In fact, the Center for American Progress that students who have a “great teacher” for at least one year are more likely to matriculate to college and earn more later in life. Therefore, we want to recruit excellent candidates, retain them, and support their growth and development to become great teachers.
At SF State’s , we are making every effort to turn around our recruitment, retention, and graduation rates. Over the past two years, we have engaged in several activities, which can be categorized as “stop-gap” measures, intermediate efforts, and long-term initiatives. Overall, our diagnosis was that our Latinx and Black students have the capacity to perform well, but we’ve had to look at how our system was not built for them.
At the stop-gap level, when (CSU’s online application website) was implemented, we immediately took advantage of the Chancellor Office’s offer to discover innovative ways to increase yield. We developed a series of online videos that instruct students on how to navigate CalState Apply. We also created a semesterly event called The Application Summit & Open House where we provide students with direct assistance on completing their CalState application. As a result of our efforts, 90% of the students who attended the Summit and completed their online applications were accepted and enrolled into our credential programs. Another stop-gap measure was developed after we discovered that our highly capable Latinx and Black students were probably dealing with stereotype threats and other anxieties related to taking the California Subject Matter Examination for Teachers (CSET), a high-stakes test required for most credential students. We created a free, privately funded CSET Multiple Subject preparation workshop for any student who planned to take the CSET or who had failed any one or more of the subtests. Our workshop instructor quickly discovered that our students knew the content, but needed test-taking skill development. As a result, many more of our attendees have been passing the CSET in time to start their student teaching.
At the intermediate level of intervention, we joined other CSU campuses who participate in by asking undergraduate professors to nominate promising teaching candidates. We now conduct nomination campaigns each fall semester and invite nominees to celebration of teaching events. As Associate Dean, I have been intensely involved in the university’s effort to address our university-wide hiring practices with respect to the diversity of our faculty and administrators. In our credential program information sessions, we highlight that we understand that our students want to do more than become a teacher; rather they want to be transformative figures in their communities. Knowing this and building our practice around our students’ motivation affords the opportunity for our students of color to believe that our college is a place where they will be well-supported until they complete their programs.
Another intermediate intervention was to address the SF State reality that many of our students come underprepared to write, making it difficult for some to meet our high standards for graduate students. Through a private gift, we hired Graduate Writing Tutors exclusively for the Graduate College of Education. The tutors have been graduate students at SF State’s Creative Writing Master’s program, who have been coached to understand that their work is not limited to teaching the mechanics of writing. Often, they have to remind students that writing requires re-writing and that they should not be discouraged by extensive comments they receive on their assignments. Importantly, our current tutor provides extensive written feedback augmented by a recording of orally narrated comments that expand on the written feedback. Students have found this combination of written and narrated feedback extremely helpful.
Finally, our long-term efforts have included an annual event, Dia de la Familia, focused on recruiting Latinx children through their parents. With as many as 200 attendees, we hold bilingual workshops for the children/teens separately from a Spanish language series of workshops for the parents, most of whom are monolingual. This annual event is successful because we understand that parents want to be in charge and that many of our universities are not built to welcome monolingual Spanish-speaking parents as leaders of their families. Instead, we have either haphazardly enlisted a staff member to speak to the parents, or we have relied on the children and teens. At Dia de la Familia, we empower the parents to speak directly in Spanish about their concerns and questions with staff and faculty who can engage the parents in Spanish. Additional long-term efforts include the Step to College program, the , and our collaborations with and .
Overall, to plug the leaky pathway to our teacher education programs for students of color has required a strong desire and commitment to address systemic barriers, rather than endorsing a pathology-based narrative about our students of color (e.g., poverty, under-resourced schools, poor preparation, etc.). From an asset-based perspective, we assume that the students have all that they need to succeed within them already. Then we have asked, What were we noticing? We noticed that our CalState application system was a barrier, which led to the development of our CalState Apply online tutorials and Application Summits). We also noticed that our potential students were not getting the message that we really wanted them to enroll, leaving it entirely to them to figure out how to pass the CSET without any outreach from us (CSET prep course). We noticed that many of our SF State students really wanted to become teachers and to attend our credential programs once they knew about the opportunities through EduCorps nomination campaigns and Application Summits. We noticed that our students of color want more than just a job; they want to be transformative figures for their communities. Thus, we have reminded ourselves that we are uplifting communities by preparing high quality teachers. We noticed that our own graduates were ready to be challenged with respect to writing, so we created a Graduate Writing Tutor program. Importantly, we discovered that we were waiting too long to talk to future teacher candidates and their parents; thus we created Dia de la Familia. While we are still assessing the impact of these efforts, we are certain that our multi-pronged, culturally responsive, and asset-based approach to recruitment, retention, and graduation is on the right path to increasing the representation of teachers of color in the workforce.
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