At C.K. McClatchy High School, an ad hoc colectiva is exploring ways to encourage minority students to return to teach – a grow-your-own approach to adding greater diversity to the faculty.
Luis Guerrero, McClatchy class of 2009, said he’s on track to return to his alma mater after getting teaching credentials in math. Shazmine Randle, finishing her second year at California State University, Sacramento, said McClatchy Principal Peter Lambert constantly tells her that she should come back to teach. And Rohit Sharma, a 2001 graduate and an athletic trainer at McClatchy, plans to get his credential to teach special education at the campus, where he works as an aide.
“We’re a loose collection of educators who came together because there was a need,” said assistant principal Gema Godina-Martinez, a 1993 McClatchy graduate who, as a teacher, helped organize the colectiva, which meets about four times a year.
Seven years ago, the colectiva was formed after Godina and other teachers realized they felt “on the brink of burnout,” she said. At the time, she said, teachers were trying to develop extracurricular academic support for struggling students but could not get administrative backing.
“There was a lack of support that we were feeling as teachers,” she said. “We felt like we were on the defensive and not allowed to go forward. We saw our kids were failing.”
The question, she said, was how to avoid burnout while supporting students who needed help. Initially, the colectiva focused on helping Latino students. But as the group evolved and teachers became administrators, she said, the effort grew to all students.
From that foundation, the strategy of encouraging students to return was born.
“You have to come back,” Godina said, reciting her pitch to promising students. “It’s going to be your job to do what we’re doing with you. This is the conversation you have to have with students in five years.”
Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, said it’s rare to find an organization of adults “who want to increase diversity by cultivating existing high school students to go on and get a certificate to teach and return.”
More often, he said, individual teachers or temporary groups who want the same outcome “arise and then disappear.”
At McClatchy, about three-quarters of the students are minorities, according to the latest state figures. But the reverse is true for the faculty, where about 70 percent of the teachers are white, the figures show. The campus has about 100 teachers and 2,300 students.
Guerrero, 23, said he felt the imbalance, at least subconsciously.
“I was always a troubled kid, a class clown. I talked a lot. But it was hard to communicate with a teacher who didn’t understand me,” he said. “I remember growing up and I always wanted to shout answers. I would get into trouble.
“I didn’t have that self-discipline, that self-control. Kids want to be acknowledged. They want recognition.”
Stanford’s Cuban said there are two basic assumptions about the argument for increasing teacher diversity. One, he said, is that interactions will be better and more frequent where kids see people of a similar skin color and culture.
The second, he said, is the notion of fairness, “that no institution in our society should be out of whack between people being served and those serving them insofar as representation.”
Sacramento City Unified overall has the most diverse teacher corps among the region’s 50 largest districts, according to California Department of Education figures. About 39 percent of its teachers are minorities.
On the other end of the spectrum, 97 percent of teachers in Western Placer Unified, Colfax Elementary, Pollock Pines Elementary and Loomis Union Elementary are white.
About 6 percent of the region’s teachers – largely in Rocklin Unified – did not state their ethnicity and are not included in those figures.
Another facet of the lopsided minority representation among teachers may be the growing ability of minorities to move into other professions, Cuban said.
“It’s much harder to get people to choose teaching as a career,” he said, because the door has opened wider to alternative opportunities for minorities. “I think that is one piece of the context.”
Guerrero, a junior at CSUS, said he and a handful of college students began tutoring in science and math at Arthur A. Benjamin Health Professions High School south of Broadway about three years ago. From that start, he said, involvement with the students began to grow.
“After about six months, I loved it,” he said. “That is when I decided maybe I could become a teacher in math and science.” Godina by then was his mentor, he said. She guided him as he enrolled in college.
“She keeps giving me that rhetoric in my ear: ‘We need you. We could definitely use you,’ ” he said.
Recently, McClatchy administrators hired Guerrero as an instructional aide.
Not all would-be teacher recruits are certain they want to take on teaching.
Randle, a 2012 McClatchy graduate, starts her third year at CSUS in the spring. She said she wants to eventually go into a graduate program and get a master’s degree in business and perhaps sociology. But she doesn’t yet know if teaching will be her goal.
She began mentoring McClatchy students last year, she said, and based on that experience decided to switch her major to sociology. The mentoring “made me want to do more things with the kids,” she said.
Principal Lambert also fostered supportive relationships for students when he invited district leaders to come to the campus and become mentors. Randle said she now occasionally turns to Lisa Allen, chief of schools; Olivine Roberts, chief academic officer; or Iris Taylor, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, when she wants guidance about her academic future.
Jessica Kunisaki, a 2004 graduate, began working in the college and career center at McClatchy during the last school year. She also coaches girls’ varsity basketball. “I knew that I wanted to stay at McClatchy,” Kunisaki said. She has a master’s degree and is hoping to be hired at the school as a school counselor.
Even before the emphasis on grow-your-own teachers, McClatchy alumni were returning to the fold. A half-dozen people on the coaching staff are alumni, as are three teachers, a counselor and even the plant manager. Godina, who graduated in 1993, is part of that group.
State data show that changing the ethnic imbalance among teachers will take time.
Roughly 75 percent of first-year teachers in the Sacramento region in the 2012 school year were white, according to the latest state data, compared to 82 percent of those entering the profession a decade ago.
Numerical parity isn’t all that’s needed, Godina said.
“Having the same skin color is not enough,” she said. “Our responsibility as teachers of color is critical. We should look like our students, but we also have to relate to them culturally, linguistically. All those connections are what help kids learn and want to come to your class.”