To support school districts in hiring and retaining highly qualified and diverse teachers, the San Mateo County Office of Education is partnering with Alder Graduate School of Education (Alder GSE) to launch a teacher residency program in the 2021-2022 school year. 

“All students benefit from having teachers of color, but mostly students who share that cultural background,” shared Elizabeth Veal, Director of Teacher Residency and Administrator Programs, who coordinates the program at the County Office of Education. “When you see someone you can relate to in a position of authority or care, you are going to be much more successful than you would have been otherwise.”

According to a study conducted by the Learning Policy Institute, teachers of color can improve reading and math test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance for students of color. Despite this, 60 percent of California’s teachers in the 2018-2019 school year were white, even though white students only made up 24.8 percent of the student population, according to the California Department of Education.

Student vs Teacher Ethnicities“Unfortunately, because of the systemic racism and societal stigmas against teaching, most students of color don’t see teaching as a viable path,” explained Elizabeth. “Through the teacher residency program, we not only want to attract capable, intelligent people into this profession ­– we want to have teachers reflect the diversity of the students they serve.”

Teacher residency programs provide an alternative pathway to teaching where prospective educators with a B.A. earn a Master’s-level education while teaching in a year-long classroom internship. They give prospective teachers access to hands-on learning in a classroom with a highly-skilled and experienced teacher, which often results in higher retention rates compared to their peers.

Alder GSE’s teacher residency programs are unique in that they specifically recruit and educate teachers who are already connected to a school or district and who reflect the diversity of their schools’ communities. For example, 76 percent of Alder GSE students in the 2020-2021 school year represented Asian, Black, Hispanic/Latino, and other historically underrepresented groups. On average, more than 55 percent of Alder GSE residents are first-generation college graduates. Of those who complete the program, 95 percent are hired by the school system where they were trained.

“One thing that I’m really excited about is that the Alder vision has partnered well with our focus on equity and building equity-minded teachers,” shared Elizabeth. “The marriage between the two educational forces has been inspiring to know that other people are doing the same work we are and with the same passion.”

In this first year of the program, the County Office of Education is working with six local education agencies – Jefferson Union, Pacifica, Ravenswood City, Redwood City, San Mateo-Foster City, and the County Office of Education’s special education programs – to recruit 14-16 residents. So far, ten of the available spots have been filled, with 80 percent of the candidates being people of color who reflect the students served in each school community. 

“That’s not a typical ethnic breakdown of candidates that you find in teacher preparation programs,” said Elizabeth. “Just by next year, assuming that these districts will have openings and that these candidates fill them, we are already increasing the diversity within the district.”

Residents will begin coursework during the summer of 2021 and graduate at the end of the 2021-2022 school year with a Master’s and teaching credential and will be given priority to teach in the district they served. The program will focus on preparing special education teachers in its first year, with the potential to expand to other types of credentials in the future.

“I think this program is going to be awesome because I’ll have the opportunity to do some teaching and coteaching, learn the material, go to seminars, and hear discussions,” shared Kadira Cook, an African-American woman who will be completing her residency in the San Mateo-Foster City School District. She was inspired to enter the program after working with students who have special needs and helping students transform their maladaptive behavior into adaptive behavior.

“Alder’s message and overall mission to increase diversity in the workforce is amazing, and I’m looking forward to hearing from other people whose perspectives may be similar or different from my own and being part of this cohort,” said Kadira.

One teacher resident, Carla Barahona, is excited to return to the Jefferson Union High School District where she attended high school in the early 2000s. She initially received her B.A. in multimedia design and has been working as a freelance graphic designer. After the murder of George Floyd and seeing students and educators struggle due to COVID-19, though, she was propelled to become a teacher and support future generations of students.

“I had always thought about being a teacher, but I never thought I would be able to do it because of the environment I grew up in. And as an Afro-Latina, I just didn’t see a lot of teachers that looked like me,” shared Carla. “But after what happened with George Floyd, and being a mom now, I asked myself what I could do. I was tired of these things happening. And just thinking back to my history, how I struggled but had teachers who really pushed me, I realized I could support these students by becoming a teacher.

“It’s really important to find and nurture teachers, especially diverse teachers, to teach in these districts,” Carla continued. “Black students don’t have it easy, especially given everything that’s happening now with racial injustice. To be able to have someone who can advocate for them, support them, and listen to them is critical. What the County Office of Education and Alder GSE are doing right now is an important step in that direction.”