Future of Teaching

How to attract and keep teachers in Indianapolis? Build them a village.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Teachers and community members gather to hear about plans for a new "teacher village" in development on the city's near-east side.

While he was out biking in his southeast side neighborhood, Joe Mount came across a troubling scene: Two boys were throwing small rocks at a young girl.

He immediately recognized her from the honors English class he had taught at Emma Donnan Middle School. He quickly intervened.

He said he wouldn’t have been there to settle the squabble if he weren’t living nearby, three blocks away in a neighborhood right off Garfield Park. Mount, 24, who was born and raised in Indianapolis, asked to be placed in the city during his stint with Teach for America and knew he wanted to live close to Donnan.

“You get a sense of ownership and involvement with your students that you wouldn’t get if you lived 20 minutes south,” Mount said.

For years, Indianapolis and cities across the country have grappled with how to attract new teachers to the classroom and encourage them to stay. Offering early career educators — particularly those in inner cities — housing that they can afford on their teacher salaries and near their schools could solve two problems: bolster relationships between teachers and students and quell persistent teaching shortages.

To address those challenges, several Indianapolis community groups unveiled a proposal to create a “teacher village” in the center city at an open house Tuesday night. The partnership among the city of Indianapolis; Near East Area Renewal, a nonprofit community developer; and Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership, a nonprofit that helps people prepare to buy homes, would result in 20 or more homes in the 800 to 900 block of North Rural Street, a part of town known as St. Clair Place. The homes would be priced starting around $130,000, but several would be available as rentals.

NEAR anticipates the first homes would be available in May 2018. And although rules around the project’s funding say they must be open to any potential buyer, NEAR wants to market the homes heavily to teachers in Indianapolis Public Schools and inner-city charter schools.

John Franklin Hay, executive director for NEAR, said the project coincides with a larger effort to revitalize the near-east side, where crime and poverty rates are high. But redevelopment is changing the area, with new and rehabbed homes popping up within blocks of abandoned houses.

“We were challenged by Indianapolis Public Schools and Teach Plus and by the city of Indianapolis about a year and a half ago to begin developing a teacher village,” Hay said. “Our intention from the very beginning … was to develop housing and do our revitalizing of St. Clair Place. It would be a mixed-income neighborhood that would be more diverse than when we started.”

The near-east side is home to more than a dozen public and private schools, including 10 in IPS. Teach Plus Indiana, part of a national organization that trains teachers to advocate for policy, researched problems teachers face when trying to find housing. Typically, they found, the houses near their schools are far too expensive even though downtown housing is booming in the city — since 2010, 50 new complexes have been built, and most charge $1,300 per month or more. According to a March 2017 article in Forbes, average rent in Indianapolis is $806.

“The majority of residents within these complexes make $80,000 per year or higher,” the policy brief states. “Given that Indianapolis Public Schools starting salary is half of that, few teachers, if any, can afford to live within the Center Township. Of the teachers who do choose to live within the limits of Circle City, they must sacrifice either safety or savings.”

The problem is not unique to Indianapolis. A report out of New York University cites research showing students benefit from building closer relationships with teachers, particularly those in high-poverty urban schools. Those effects can come later in life, but they also can be as immediate as math achievement over the course of a school year. Living in the community they teach, argues Etta Hollins, a University of Missouri-Kansas City professor, leads to a much deeper understanding of students and the support they need.

Nor is the desire to live and work in the same community unique to teachers. Cities across the country have taken a variety of measures — from restricting where civil servants can live to building housing specifically for police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers and other municipal employees — to place their workforce closer to their jobs.

Other cities across the country, including Philadelphia and Baltimore, have seen success with such models for teachers — for instance, the Philadelphia teacher village was fully rented out six months before it was finished, and district-subsidized housing in Santa Clara, California, has a 30-person waiting list, the Teach Plus policy brief states.

The open house attracted about 30 interested educators. They offered ideas about what amenities were important to them in their homes and a neighborhood, including being close to grocery stores, restaurants and fitness centers as well as having parking, outdoor lighting and storage space.

Many also emphasized safety, which NEAR said it is already addressing. Often, high-poverty urban centers where schools are located have more crime than surrounding suburbs. Every teacher village home would come with a security system, and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has installed surveillance in the area.

The teachers also added that some kind of incentive from their schools or district — whether that’s down-payment assistance, longer-term contracts or salary bonuses — would also encourage them to seek out permanent housing in the teacher village.

While some teachers might prefer separating their personal and professional communities, teachers like Mount said he considered himself lucky to be able to live near where he worked. His school, Donnan Middle School, is 43 percent white and 37 percent black and is located in a fairly high-poverty area southeast of the city.

Once he relocated, he said, he regularly walked his dog around his neighborhood, occasionally stopping to chat with students he ran into at a local convenience store where they bought snacks after school. He also stopped driving to work each day, preferring instead to bike.

“The kids immediately picked up on that,” he said, laughing. “That’s something weird and novel … you start getting a reputation in other grades just with that.”

Mount said moving to the neighborhood surrounding his school changed so much about how he interacted with his students, and he’s grateful he lucked into an affordable option. He said he hopes other teachers can have that same opportunity someday.

“It was incredibly important to be able to point to the street behind the school and say, ‘I live on that street. I know what’s going on,’” he said. “I lived in that area, I was their neighbor … it was everything.”

Price of entry

Becoming a Colorado teacher could soon require fewer transcripts, more training on English learners

Stephanie Wujek teaches science at Wiggins Middle School , on April 5, 2017 in Wiggins, Colorado. Rural areas are having a hard time finding teachers in areas like math and science. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The rules for becoming a teacher in Colorado are about to change — and officials hope the moves will help attract more math teachers and better prepare educators to work with students learning English.

The changes, which the Colorado Department of Education proposed this week, would also cut down on the paperwork needed to enter the profession and make it easier for teachers licensed in other states to re-enter the classroom after they move to Colorado.

The package of changes also includes a slimmed-down teacher evaluation rubric, the first major revision to the rules under Colorado’s 2010 teacher effectiveness law.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Less paperwork for new teachers. Applicants for a teaching license would no longer have to provide transcripts for every school they attended, only the transcripts for the school that granted them their highest degree. (Many colleges hold transcripts hostage for unpaid debt, even minor ones like unpaid parking tickets.
  • Less paperwork for teachers coming from other states. Experienced, licensed teachers from outside Colorado would no longer need to provide transcripts or prove that their teacher preparation program met Colorado standards.
  • More flexibility about previous teaching experience. Licensed teachers from other states would no longer need to have previously worked under a full-time contract to qualify for a Colorado license.
  • A new credential limited to middle-school math. Right now, Colorado only has a secondary math endorsement, which requires competency in trigonometry and calculus. That’s a barrier for teachers moving from other states with a math endorsement limited to middle school, and some see it as a roadblock for those who feel comfortable with algebra but not higher-level math.
  • Additional pathways for counselors and nurses to get licensed to work in schools.

Two bills making their way through the Colorado General Assembly this session would remove another barrier for out-of-state teachers. To qualify for a Colorado license today, teachers must have had three years of continuous teaching experience. If those bills are signed into law, applicants would only need three years of experience in the previous seven years.

Together, the proposals indicate how Colorado officials are working to make it a little easier to become a teacher in the state, which is facing a shortage in math teachers, counselors, and school nurses, among other specialties, as well as a shortage in many rural districts.

Colleen O’Neil, executive director of educator talent for the Colorado Department of Education, said many of the proposed changes came out of listening sessions focused on the state’s teacher shortage held around the state.  

The changes still don’t mean that if you’re a teacher anywhere in the country, you can easily become a teacher in Colorado. Just six states have full reciprocity, meaning anyone with a license from another state can teach with no additional requirements, according to the Education Commission of the States. Teachers whose licenses and endorsements don’t have a direct equivalent in Colorado would still need to apply for an interim license and then work to meet the standards of the appropriate Colorado license or endorsement.

The rule changes also add some requirements. Among those changes:

  • Prospective teachers will need more training on how to work with students learning English. Most significantly, all educator preparation programs would have to include six semester hours or 90 clock hours of training.
  • So will teachers renewing their licenses. They will need 45 clock hours, though the requirement wouldn’t kick in until the first full five-year cycle after the teacher’s most recent renewal. A teacher who just got her license renewed this year would have nine years to complete that additional training, as the requirement wouldn’t apply until the next renewal cycle. Superintendents in districts where less than 2 percent of the students are English language learners could apply for a waiver.

Colorado’s educator preparation rules already call for specialized training for teaching English language learners, but the rule change makes the requirements more explicit.

“We’re the sixth-largest state for English language learners,” O’Neil said. “We want to make sure our educators are equipped to teach all our learners.”

The rule changes would also “streamline,” in O’Neil’s words, the teacher evaluation process. Here’s what would change:

  • The five teacher quality standards would become four. “Reflection” and “leadership” are combined into “professionalism.”
  • The underlying elements of those standards would be reduced, too. Twenty-seven elements would become 17.

Fifty school districts and one charter collaborative have been testing the new evaluation system this year in a pilot program. O’Neil said most of the feedback has been positive, and the rest of the feedback has been to urge officials to winnow down the standards even further. That’s not a change she would support, O’Neil said.

“The reality is that teaching actually is rocket science,” she said. “There are a lot of practices and elements that go into good teaching.”

The state is accepting additional public comment on the rules until April 20, and a public hearing will be held in May. The new rules are expected to be adopted this summer.

Submit written feedback online or send an email to the State Board of Education at state.board@cde.state.co.us.

bias in the classroom

‘Disciplinarians first and teachers second’: black male teachers say they face an extra burden

PHOTO: The Laradon School
A teacher and a student at The Laradon School in Denver work together with tactile teaching tools.

As a first-year teacher, Pierce Bond took on a remarkable responsibility: helping other teachers by disciplining or counseling misbehaving students.

That left him to make tough choices, like whether to disrupt his own class mid-lesson to handle problems in the school’s detention room. “Sometimes you have to make that decision,” he told an interviewer. “Do I stop whatever I’m doing now to go deal with this situation?”

The burden was placed on him because he is one of small share of black men in the teaching profession, posits a study published this month in The Urban Review, a peer-reviewed journal. The study relies on interview 27 black male teachers in Boston’s public schools — including Bond, who like others, was identified by a pseudonym — and found several experiences like his.

“Participants perceived that their peers and school administrators positioned them to serve primarily as disciplinarians first and teachers second,” write authors Travis Bristol of Boston University and Marcelle Mentor of the College of New Rochelle.

The paper acknowledges that interviewees were a small, non-random sample of teachers in one district, and their results might not apply elsewhere. But other researchers and policymakers, including former Secretary of Education John King, have acknowledged the phenomenon, which may contribute to schools’ difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers of color.

“Children of color and white children need to see different types of people standing in front of them and teaching them,” said Bristol. “After we recruit [teachers of color], we have to be mindful about how they are positioned in their building and draw on the things they are doing that are successful.”

In the study, which draws from Bristol’s dissertation on the experiences of black male teachers, a number of them described a similar experience: colleagues assuming that they were better able to deal with perceived behavioral issues, particularly among black boys.

One veteran teacher, Adebayo Adjayi, described how older students were regularly sent into his early elementary classroom, making his regular teaching role significantly more difficult.

“Adjayi recognized that his classroom became the school’s disciplinary room, a holding area, and he had become the school disciplinarian,” the researchers write. “Without considering the type of environment that would most support [the school’s] students who were deemed misbehaving, the fifth graders were placed in the same classroom as the prekindergartners.”

Christopher Brooks, a high school teacher, explained how seemingly small favors for colleagues began to add up. “He first said yes to one teacher who asked him, ‘Can you just talk to so-and-so because he’s not giving up his phone?’ and then to another colleague who asked, ‘Can I leave Shawn in here? He can’t seem to sit still.’ By that time, it had become the unspoken norm that Brooks would attend to his colleagues’ misbehaving students,” the study says.

Brooks says this played a role in how he arranged his day, since he knew he needed to be prepared to receive additional students some periods or solve a problem during lunch.

Other teachers told the researchers the the extra responsibilities don’t bother them.

“I understand it because I know how to speak the kids’ language,” said Okonkwo Sutton, a first-year charter school teacher. “I’ve had a very similar childhood and background as many of them.”  

Some of those interviewed questioned the assumptions behind the idea that they should serve as disciplinarians. Peter Baldwin, a novice teacher, described how a colleague suggested he would be able to help one struggling student by talking “man to man.”

“I don’t think he was just gonna respond to me better than others because I’m me, or because I’m a male or because I’m black,” Baldwin said. “I think because I sort of invested time … we’ve built a relationship.”

There’s little if any research on how this additional work or stress affects black male teachers’ job satisfaction, retention, or performance. But there is evidence that teachers of color leave the classroom at a higher rate and are less satisfied with their jobs than white teachers.

At a national level, the numbers are striking: only 2 percent of teachers are black men. Meanwhile, research has repeatedly linked black teachers to better outcomes — test scores, high school graduation rates, behavior — for black students, and that’s led to national pushes to diversify the predominantly white teaching profession, as well as local programs like NYC Men Teach.

The study emphasizes that the findings don’t apply to all black male teachers, and doesn’t try to quantify the experience of being treated as disciplinarians. But the authors suggest that treating black male teachers that way could be unfair to them, their colleagues, and their students.

“School administrators should work to develop more expansive roles for black male teachers and become more cognizant of how black male teachers are implicitly and explicitly positioned in their schools,” the paper says. “Equally important, administrators should work to develop the capacity of all teachers to support and engage all students.”