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New Crop of Latino Teachers Flock to Classrooms Nationwide

First Posted: Sep 14, 2015 03:48 PM EDT
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Monolingual Hispanic Students Learn English

Photo : Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images

There are 600 new Latino teachers in the classroom this fall.

The newest crop of incoming teachers, trained by Teach for America, is spread out nationwide and represents 15 percent of the 4,100 teachers in the class of 2015, according to Jorge Santana, Managing Director for Programs at TFA.

"We are excited because there are many students which we serve that identify as Latino," Santana said.

TFA aggressively recruits at many historically Black and Latino colleges and has even teamed up with the largest Latina Greek sorority, "Sigma Lambda Gamma," in what the organization calls their "Greek Initiative" to encourage more young Latinos to pursue teaching.

This still does add to the diversity of the teaching profession. According to some estimates, only 10 percent of teachers nationwide are of Latino origin. 

"Strikingly, while the demographic characteristics of schools appear to be highly important to minority teachers' initial decisions as to where to teach, this doesn't appear to be the case for their later decisions about whether to stay or depart," said Richard Ingersoll, author of the working paper 'Seven Trends the Transformation of the Teaching Force.' "What does impact their decisions, our analyses show, are school working conditions, in particular the degree of autonomy and discretion teachers are allowed over issues that arise in their classrooms, and the level of collective faculty influence over school-wide decisions that affect teachers' jobs. The same difficult-to-staff schools that are more likely to employ minority teachers are also more likely to offer less-than-desirable working conditions, according to our data, and these conditions account for the higher rates of minority teacher turnover."

TFA sees Latino teachers as bringing their experience, culture and identity to the classroom. In turn, kids see a reflection of themselves in their teacher and the teacher is then able to build relationships and culture within the classroom. The organization is highly selective and has kept its 15 percent admission rate throughout its 25-year history.

"We're glad Teach for America is taking teacher diversity seriously. It's so important for students of color and students learning English to have teachers that look and sound like them, who have community and cultural knowledge, and who can provide relevant guidance and act as role models," said Leo Casey, Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes high-quality public education that will soon release new data on teacher diversity in 7 cities: 

TFA aims to have a culturally responsible classroom, build relationships with both students and parents and value the culture of the students -- who they are and their family background is part of TFA's DNA.

One of the 600 new Latino teachers is Francisco Micheo, a Columbia University graduate who will teach General Education and Social Studies to 5th graders at Amistad Dual Language School in the Inwood section of Manhattan

"I chose to be a part of [Teach for America] because in High School I had a very influential teacher that had a strong impact on my life. She changed the course of my path," said Micheo. She showed me how influential a teacher can be, he added.

[Listen as Micheo describes his High School Teacher, Ms. De Felix, and how she altered his life]

While studying at Columbia, Micheo mentored immigrant youth in Inwood that fostered his desire to be an educator. During his senior year, a TFA recruiter came to Columbia and he applied.

Many TFA teachers go back to either where they grew up or where they have lived for a period of time, as did Micheo. Having lived in Inwood during his studies for four years, he knew the neighborhood. In this way, TFA's Santana says that the teachers are better equipped to understand and teach their students because they know the neighborhood and can relate to their kids' realities and that of the parents.

Bilingual Education is a challenge TFA has taken on by training their teachers to ask targeted questions at the schools they have secured an offer from. TFA has bilingual teacher coaches and sample letters in both English and Spanish for the teachers to send to parents. The incoming teachers ask questions such as: What is the language model of the school, What is the language proficiency of the students? What do the kids need? TFA also has online resources for the incoming teachers that they can access anytime.

"Different schools have different requirements. Some have a dual language model while others offer a transitional model where English is phased in over time," said Santana.

[Listen as Santana tells the story of how how he felt in kindergarten as the only bilingual student in his class and how that impacted his life years later]

As a bilingual educator, Micheo is determined to give his students a "rich experience" in the classroom and said that he would not have his kids read the "typical canon" of literature. He wants texts that will challenge them and connect them with their language and culture.

Micheo hopes that his students will find that access to another language will give them opportunities and a key to a wide array of knowledge and material that as bilingual and bicultural students will help them in their education and in life. He wants to foster in them the importance of the Spanish language.

"I want to guide them to where they want to go. I want to be a part of their community. And build a relationship with their families," said Micheo.

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