In its last session in 2011, the Texas Legislature voted to cut more than $5 billion in funding to public schools in the state: the first per-pupil funding decrease since World War II.
“Those budget cuts had an impact on the schools, but they also had an impact on the public’s perception that teaching was a good career option for students,” says David Byrd, assistant dean for undergraduate academic affairs, College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), Texas A&M University.
“So, we do everything we can to combat the negative narrative that tells students and their parents that teachers are undervalued. We describe a different narrative, one that talks about how much good teachers are valued because of their ability to transform lives.
“In fact,” adds Byrd, “we flip the old adage on its ear and tell them; “Those who CAN, teach.”
It’s a strong message and it requires a strong recruiting program.
The program is built on the foundation that one of the best ways to help build the educational pipeline in Texas is to train teachers who can be role models for today’s K-12 students, especially in the high need fields, which includes STEM, bilingual and special education.
“Our teachers should be more reflective of Texas demographics,” Byrd states. “At CEHD, we focus our recruitment efforts on urban schools and schools that serve a high number of students from populations that are traditionally under-represented, including first generation, low-income, African-American and Hispanic students.”
Recruitment happens on multiple fronts. Casey Ricketts, assistant director, recruitment and scholarships, spends a great deal of his time traveling to high schools and community colleges helping students with the desire to become teachers understand what the CEHD and Texas A&M have to offer.
“We try to be intentional when we seek out prospective students,” says Ricketts. “We nurture our partnership with high schools in the HISD (Houston Independent School District) and similar partnerships we’ve cultivated with high schools like BETA (Business Education Technology magnet school) and Del Valle, because they provide us with an applicant pool of future teachers from diverse backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities.
“We often find students whose values align with our Aggie core values of leadership and service,” Ricketts adds, “and that tells us they have the potential to become passionate teachers with the desire to lead others and help transform lives.”
The names of prospective students are entered into the CEHD data base and from then on there is frequent interaction with them, including online forums utilizing Blackboard Collaborate, where junior and senior high school and transfer students are able to ask questions concerning CEHD, Texas A&M, degree plans, admissions and financial aid.
“The response to these online forums has been overwhelmingly positive,” Byrd states. “We received so many appreciative comments from students and their parents.”
Because of the national and state need for more STEM teachers, CEHD provides high school students in the top 25 percent of their class the opportunity to attend ExpLORE (Exploring Leadership Opportunities and Rewards in Education) summer camp.
“Along with the opportunity to live in dorms on campus and to experience first-hand teaching as a career, we do some intensive advising with the students so we can direct them to the right area of specialization, especially if it’s in the STEM, bilingual or special education fields.
“We include experiences like the Physics and Chemistry Roadshows to inspire them,” Byrd continues. “We partner with AggieTEACH in the Center for Math and Science Education to demonstrate innovative techniques for teaching math and science.”
ExpLORE is just one of the ways that students can be introduced to the rewards and opportunities available to them as educators.
In terms of recruiting future bilingual and special education teachers, CEHD also partners with student organizations such as the Council for Exceptional Children and the Bilingual Education Student Organization to help increase the size of the applicant pool for these high need fields.
In this era of rising costs, an important component of the educational pipeline — and often the only alternative for many previously underrepresented students — is to attend one of the excellent community colleges in Texas. That’s why Ricketts reaches out to community college students who have expressed an interest in teaching.
“As part of our recruitment efforts,” says Ricketts, “we connect with future teacher organizations at community colleges. We also attempt to identify teachers and counselors who can serve as allies in the school in helping to identify prospects who are interested in teaching as a career. CEHD has been providing summer transfer workshops for administrators, counselors and community college students transferring into Texas A&M since 2006.”
The CEHD also maintains a strong connection with several organizations to help identify prospects who are interested in teaching as a career. They include TAFE (Texas Association of Future Educators), the Association of Future Teachers and Ready, Set, Teach! where high school juniors and seniors in many Texas high schools get valuable field experience in the teaching profession.
“We did some innovative recruiting with one of our learning communities,” Byrd says. “The group was made up of freshman who we took on a service-learning trip to the colonias in partnership with the non-profit organization, “Abriendo Puertas,” states Byrd. “They walked through the community and shared their stories about why they love Texas A&M and provided free children’s books for low-income families. A lot of the parents who had never considered college an option really got on board, which showed everyone the impact a good teacher — and a bilingual education — can have.
“Students who want to help change the world by educating young minds generally aren’t deterred by state budget cuts,” Byrd concludes. “With good guidance at the right time, they’ll pursue their passion and educate the next generation of scientists, engineers, physicians and teachers.”
Media contact: Lynn Paris, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-6746