How We Recruit High School and Community College Students to Teaching

Author: Janene Perez
Affiliation: San José State University
Janene Perez

Teacher educators, consider your own journey into education. Did you come from a family of educators? Or maybe you had a teacher who left an indelible mark that influenced your decision? These are inspired reasons to enter the field, but how do we reach those who never considered teaching, who may be the first in their family to attend college, or who didn’t have a teacher they connected with? Recruiting candidates with a diversity of experiences is absolutely vital to our mission of enhancing the quality of education for all students, but this work takes time, intention, and continuous reflection. 

Over the last two years, our outreach and recruitment efforts at San José State have grown in several ways. We have established a college advising center to support both current and prospective students, built strong cross-campus collaborations, hired a dedicated outreach and recruitment advisor, and increased our presence in the community with partner educators. This multi-pronged approach is evolving and becoming the foundation of our recruitment work. 

Layered onto this are activities that respond to the requests like these from PK-12 educators from our region of the state:

  • Making classroom presentations at local high schools that have child development and elementary education career academies;
  • Hosting campus visits with career academies (high schools), future teacher clubs (community college), and career changers (industry);
  • Offering on-campus, off-campus, and virtual advising hours for prospective students;
  • Conducting lab sessions for prospective teachers using Cal State Apply and our own department application websites to apply for our credential programs.

An additional recruitment tool that we have found to be particularly successful, and continues to grow, is our annual Celebration of Teaching. Drawing on the Sacramento State model, we conduct a four-week nomination campaign, inviting our partner educators and community stakeholders to nominate students that have the promise and potential to become impactful educators. 

In 2018, our first event focused on reaching our own undergraduates from varied disciplines across the university, especially those outside teacher preparation programs. At the event, nominees joined current credential candidates, teacher education faculty, and alumni to discuss their interests, academic pathways, and the numerous career possibilities in education. Our alumni keynote speaker, Jamie Bradley, spoke of his own trajectory initially pursuing a career in journalism only to realize that his heart belonged in a special education classroom. He shared how teachers often know when they see a potential educator in a student, and encouraged students to reflect deeply on their nomination and the qualities teachers saw in them. 

The focus for our second event in 2019 expanded substantially. In addition to our colleagues across the San Jose State community, we reached out to local middle and high school principals, community college faculty and department chairs, and community-based agency partners (where students were working or completing service-learning hours). To further the commitment to support these nominees, each was awarded a certificate of recognition and a $1000 scholarship to be used towards any of our teacher credential programs. Nearly 90 students were nominated, and more than half were from outside of our campus! 

When measuring the impact of campaigns like this, it is important to recognize that when the nomination field is widened in this way, there won’t be an immediate uptick of applicants the following semester. In fact, we may not see many of these students enter our programs for several years to come. We are confident, however, that this experience will have a lasting impression and open up new career possibilities, especially for those that may not have felt teaching was an option for them. 

Our 2019 keynote speaker, Ashanti Branch, spoke of this opportunity when he encouraged attendees to recognize the diversity of experiences they bring, and within these, the insecurities that many of us share (especially in academic settings) – feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and worry about being an imposter. This narrative can be a barrier to entry into teaching and is one that has to be addressed when recruiting future teachers. Which is why it is imperative to encourage colleagues to constantly be looking for potential educators in their students. 

Our recruiting events have been exhilarating. One walks away inspired to the core, but the work doesn’t stop there. A crucial piece to recruiting happens after the event – building relationships, maintaining a strong presence in the community, meeting students where they are, and ensuring that our campus is open and accessible. These investments in time hit home for us when a high school nominee reaches out to visit our campus, sits in on a course (granted, this speaks volumes about their initiative and tenacity!), and says, “I can see myself here.”

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