Making the grade: Next Gen helps aspiring teachers prepare for college and careers
The Wayne State University College of Education and Michigan Education Association recently celebrated 37 rising high school juniors and seniors who participated in the Next Gen Teachers Summer Program, a two-week, residential college and teaching career readiness program for young people who plan to become PK-12 school educators.
Funded through a National Education Association Great Public Schools grant, the initiative is one component of Project MITTEN (Michigan Initiative to Transform Educational and Equity Networks), which seeks to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds to the teaching profession. The college will host up to 40 students each summer through 2024.
Roland Sintos Coloma, professor of teacher education and principal investigator, said the program aims to address the national teacher shortage and improve the college readiness of teacher candidates.
"Our goal is to nurture and support high school students who are interested in teaching,” he said. “We help them build relationships and identify resources that will help them become successful students and effective educators. We hope they will graduate from a teacher education program, become certified teachers and inspire more young people to pursue teaching careers.”
“The Michigan Education Association works hard to support public education to ensure every student has great teachers,” said Annette Christiansen (‘89), a Uniserv consultant professional issues organizer at the MEA and a College of Education alumna. “We are so happy to have partnered with Wayne State University and be part of Project Mitten and the Next Gen Teachers program. What started as a dream two years ago to engage high school students interested in pursuing careers in education culminated in an amazing program with excellent results. Based on what I’ve seen these last two weeks, the future of public education in Michigan looks bright.”
Other goals of the program are to diversify the teacher workforce and improve the cultural competency of teacher candidates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, people of color represent about 20% of K-12 teachers, while youth of color make up more than 50% of the student population. Research shows that increasing teacher diversity can lead to increased test scores, graduation rates and college attendance among students of color.
The Next Gen Teachers team — which, in addition to Coloma and Christiansen, includes Assistant Professor Anita Bates, Director of Clinical Partnerships and Experiences Linda Hicks, and academic services officers KaRie Jorah, Daniel Lewis, and Jeffrey Lisiecki; Abrianna White, an elementary education major and president of the Education Scholars Alliance at Wayne State; and Aryana Jharia, language, literature and writing and secondary education major and co-president of Aspiring Educators of Eastern Michigan University — intentionally recruited students from school districts with a great deal of diversity in terms of racial and ethnic background and socioeconomic status. This summer’s cohort included students from urban, rural and low-income communities, as well as individuals who identify as white, African American, Asian American, Latino, Middle Eastern and mixed ethnicity.
More than 200 high school students applied for the Next Gen Teachers program. Of the 37 selected, 33 represented 22 cities across Michigan, and four were from Illinois. All shared an interest in exploring teaching as a career and Wayne State.
Alex Malburg, a rising senior from Iron Mountain, Michigan, said he has always wanted to be a teacher. The push he received from his math and science teachers inspired him to apply for Next Gen Teachers.
“I've been helping a few of my classmates in math and science,” he said. “My teachers said, 'You're really good at this. You should really think about teaching as a career.' Their encouragement reinforced my interest in teaching. My science teacher gave me the Next Gen Teachers application, and I was happy when I got accepted to the program.”
MaKenna Goss said karate, in which she has a third-degree black belt, helped her find her calling.
“I teach children and adults,” she said. “I discovered that I like teaching kids, and teaching is what I want to do for a living.”
The Sterling Heights resident will be a first-year student majoring in elementary education at Wayne State this fall. Goss said she participated in Next Gen Teachers to experience her intended career and new community firsthand.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to get an inside view of what being a teacher is like,” she said. “I also got a glimpse of what college life will be like in the fall.”
Participants spent two weeks living and learning on Wayne State’s main campus in the heart of Detroit. Housed in Towers Residential Suites, they attended a series of workshops led by Wayne State University faculty, staff and students and representatives from the Michigan Education Association. Sessions focused on college readiness, career preparation and cultural competency.
The college readiness track included workshops on understanding the admissions process, applying for financial aid, writing essays for college, scholarship applications, time management and resume preparation. Bryson Doyle, a rising junior from Pontiac, said he found the presentations helpful.
“I'm going to be applying to college next year,” he said. “I learned what looks best on applications, and what I need to do to get admitted.”
Canton resident and rising senior Shrayan Jharia wants to teach history. He said his favorite workshop was the panel discussion with current students.
“Student leaders discussed their college experience,” he said. “They talked about how they managed their mental health and what the transition from high school to college was like. That was most helpful because those issues were on my mind.”
“Thinking about applying to college has always made me nervous because it is something I thought I would have to figure out on my own,” said Samiya Collins, a rising senior from Chicago. “However, Daniel shared some good advice about applying for financial aid and scholarships and writing essays that has been very helpful.”
Workshops in the teacher preparation track allowed students to chat with Wayne State faculty and current teacher education students. They also engaged with students and teachers at Brenda Scott Academy. Participants learned how to develop lesson plans, create inclusive classrooms, and build relationships with students and parents. They also practiced classroom management strategies, explored learning theories and discussed diverse literature.
Jharia said he decided to be a teacher because it is not a traditional 9-to-5 job. Hearing from actual teachers, however, changed his mindset and motivation.
“You always hear teachers don't make that much money,” he said. “The teachers we met — their passion for teaching seemed more important than how much they're getting paid. I have always thought about what job would allow me to make the most money, but now I think I should focus more on doing something I will enjoy.”
Collins said interacting with teachers and teacher candidates confirmed her commitment to her choice of career.
“When I tell people I want to be a teacher, they say, ‘you aren’t going to make enough money,’” she said. “I have always felt that teaching is something you must have a heart for — you have to have a love for it. These sessions helped me understand that I should not let others’ opinions deter me from pursuing my passion.”
In the cultural competency track, students examined issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion in education. They discussed self-identity, social justice, and power and privilege. Participants also learned how to build community among individuals from diverse backgrounds by embracing their unique characteristics while finding commonalities with others.
Doyle, who plans to teach high school social studies, said he learned teachers should have certain qualities.
“You have to be very open minded and able to adapt,” he said. “You'll have a diverse group of students, and you need to be able to meet every student’s needs.”
As a student attending a predominately white school, Collins said she wants to be a teacher so she can be the role model to students of color that she wishes she had.
“I want to make sure students of color have positive learning experiences,” she said. “Students in every classroom come from diverse cultures and have different views about life. Although I want to support students of color, there will be white kids in my classroom, too, and I need to remember to engage and build relationships with all my students.”
Although he is not yet sure what subject he wants to teach, Brandon Sullivan, a rising senior from Manistee, said he appreciated the opportunity to hear different perspectives.
“I come from such a small town, where there's not a lot of cultural diversity, so I loved hearing different ideas and opinions,” he said. “I have learned you cannot take a cookie-cutter approach to teaching. It is important to connect what you are teaching to students’ experiences and real-life events so that they can understand and apply what they're learning.”
Rising senior Lucia Izaguirre moved from Guatemala to Traverse City two years ago. She said she is interested in bilingual education because no one at her school spoke Spanish, and she wants to ensure students for whom English is their second language have the support they need to succeed academically.
“Everybody deserves an education,” she said. “When I came here, it was hard for me to connect with people. Having that experience helps me understand problems my students may face, and it's important to have that in the classroom.”
Students investigated resources on Wayne State’s campus. They enjoyed activities in the Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center, toured the athletic campus, and visited the David Adamany Undergraduate Library, Office of Multicultural Student Engagement and Wayne State University Farmer’s Market.
“The people here are amazing,” said Malburg. “They're really caring, and the campus is nice. It is fun and inviting.”
Participants also explored Detroit. They visited the Detroit Institute of Arts and Detroit Historical Museum, cruised the Detroit River on a Diamond Jack’s river tour, and spent time at Belle Isle. They also attended a Detroit Tigers game at Comerica Park and dined at local restaurants.
Izaguirre said she enjoyed visiting Detroit.
“I love Detroit because I love the city,” she said. “I'm from a rural area, so this was a completely different experience. There is also a lot of diversity here, which I really like.”
All participants received a $200 VISA gift card. Many used this honorarium to buy books or Wayne State paraphernalia from the bookstore, souvenirs at the Detroit Tigers game or more snacks and beverages.
On the last day of the program, students and their parents attended a FASFA workshop and enjoyed a catered lunch. Students delivered their final group presentations on the topic “Why Teach?”
As part of the presentations, they shared the reasons why they want to teach. Several participants mentioned the importance of making sure students have safe spaces, positive role models, and the academic, social and mental health services and support they need. Others highlighted the teachers who inspired and motivated them.
Next Gen Teachers staff presented them with certificates, and students who fulfilled program requirements also received a $600 check as a reward for their commitment and compensation for any missed work or income. Five students won laptops.
Sullivan said the Next Gen Teachers program helped him find a community of his peers with similar interests.
“Many people have encouraged me to consider something other than teaching, but I want to do what I love,” he said. “Through this program, I have found other people who are interested in teaching, and I had the chance to learn from them, which will make me a better teacher.”
Finally, 22 rising seniors and their families got a major surprise: Ericka Matthews-Jackson, senior director of undergraduate admissions, announced their assured admission to Wayne State.
“There were tears of joy, surprise and gratitude,” said Coloma. “A few of them didn't believe they were college material, and our announcement gave them hope, inspiration and the confidence to pursue what they thought was impossible. What we gave them was an incredible, life-changing gift.”
For more information about Next Gen Teachers, visit go.wayne.edu/nextgenteachers.
Tracy A. Boyce