Rutgers-Newark Department of Urban Education to Host State Conference on Diversifying Teacher Workforce

diverse teachers

Rutgers-Newark’s Department of Urban Education will be hosting this year’s annual statewide conference on diversifying the teacher workforce next month starting with virtual sessions Oct. 4 and 11 and closing with an in-person gathering on Oct. 18.

The conference, called the Annual New Jersey Convening on Diversifying the Teacher Workforce, will be held in coordination with the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and the New Jersey Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (NJACTE). It will feature policy makers, district leaders and Rutgers-Newark faculty and researchers discussing efforts to increase the number of Black and Latinx educators in New Jersey.

Keynote speakers include Tanisha Davis, Director of the Office of Recruitment and Certification at the NJDOE, Lynne M. Gangone, president and CEO of AACTE and Mark Comesañas,  Executive Director of My Brothers Keeper, Newark and a Rutgers-Newark alumnus. Also making remarks will be the NJDOE Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan and Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor.

The event comes during a national and statewide teacher shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme of this year’s conference, “C.A.R.E. – Community-Building And Radical Empathy,’’ addresses the importance of creating a culture of support and security for teachers of color, particularly when morale among educators is low in the wake of disruptions caused by COVID.

The pandemic worsened existing challenges in recruiting and retaining teachers of color, particularly STEM and ESL teachers, say conference organizers.

“As we’re talking about diversifying the teacher workforce, it’s important to talk about why there are diversity issues. We have to talk about push out, neglect and burn out,’’ said LaChan Hannon, director of Teacher Preparation and Innovation at the Rutgers-Newark’s Department of Urban Education. “We have to talk about what’s making people leave and what’s making people want to join the workforce. Teachers have done some amazing things during the pandemic, but our needs have also been ignored.”

At the conference, Hannon will be giving a presentation on her recent research, which examines the experiences of Black educators. Among her findings are that “teacher identity” is often at odds with “Black identity,’’ a schism that occurs because the profession has largely been occupied by white women, creating in-school cultural norms that differ from those of other cultures.

According to Lynnette Mawhinney, chair of Rutgers-Newark’s Department of Urban Education,  one way to tap into diverse pools of educators and help ease overall teacher shortages is shifting certification standards. “The biggest issue we’re having in the state deals with who qualifies or who is qualified. Nationwide, states are looking at their regulations and administrative codes to see what can be relaxed to fill the shortages,’’ she said.

Dropping some requirements for applicants with advanced degrees is another solution, according to department faculty. Mawhinney also pointed out that studies have shown aspects of the tests have a cultural bias that can put teachers of color at a disadvantage. 

Hannon believes that districts should work harder to appeal to local networks of parents and residents in efforts to recruit a diverse staff, such as asking parents and caregivers  if they know of any potential teachers or paraprofessionals and recruiting from regional HBCUs.

“It’s not that we’re not here, it’s that no one is looking for us,’’ she said.

Rutgers-Newark’s Department of Urban Education has built a reputation for recruiting student and faculty candidates from New Jersey cities who graduate to work within community school districts or partner with local schools as graduate students and professors.

“We have local leaders and national leaders all converging with the same mission and vision in mind,’’ said Hannon. “ Our students get educated here and they stay here and educate their community. That’s a great asset we have.” 

The department has also developed innovative programs unlike many others in New Jersey. The department’s undergraduate major in ESL and Bilingual Urban Education is the only one in the state and its minor in critical disability studies is one of only a few of its kind in New Jersey.