Two Alma Exley Scholars are engaged in an initiative to bring more people of color into the educator workforce in Connecticut.
Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims, whom we honored in 2008, is managing director of academic programming for the Connecticut Teacher Residency Program (TRP), which provides a pathway for uncertified school personnel and others to gain teacher certification.
Theo Martinez, whom we honored in 2018, is an elementary teacher by day and teaches several courses in the TRP during evenings and in the summer. Currently, he is teaching a course called Teaching and Learning for Today’s Learner to the incoming cohort of teacher residents, over 90 percent of whom identify as people of color.
Dr. Sims meets up with Mr. Martinez in his classroom.
Candidates Have at Least a Bachelor’s Degree
“To qualify for the Teacher Residency Program,” Dr. Sims said, “candidates must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, though some have graduate degrees and professional credentials in other fields. Also, they should have experience working with marginalized populations as well as a commitment to diversity. Many residents have worked in schools as paraeducators, associate instructors, tutors, or teaching assistants.”
Candidates begin by taking courses during the summer, then spend the academic year in residency in a school under the guidance and supervision of a certified teacher. They take additional courses during the following summer. During their year-long residency, they receive a living wage and benefits. Afterwards, upon being hired as teachers, they receive mentoring support for three years.
In its four years of existence, the program has turned out 65 teachers for Connecticut elementary schools, and 90 percent are people of color.
Mr. Martinez brings to his TRP classroom five years of teaching in a diverse elementary magnet school in South Windsor run by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC). He also has taught in a state prison. He holds a bachelor’s degree from UConn and master’s degrees from the University of Hartford and the University of Southern New Hampshire, and he is working on a doctorate at the University of South Carolina (remotely).
“It’s an honor to reconnect with Violet and to work together to meet the program’s vision of disrupting current systems of inequity,” Mr. Martinez said. “Working with these prospective educators reminds me of what I love about being in the classroom. Year after year, TRP recruits unique candidates who are committed to addressing the teacher shortage while increasing the diversity of the teacher workforce in Connecticut.”
Reconnecting in the Classroom
Dr. Sims has known Mr. Martinez for years through their attendance at events sponsored by the Alma Exley Scholarship Program. Their paths crossed again this past year in her capacity as supervisor of the instructors in the Teacher Residency Program.
“Theo is a highly valued member of our faculty,” she said. “He brings to the classroom a wealth of experience in teaching in diverse classrooms, whether in public school or prison, and he shares our commitment to bringing greater diversity to the teaching profession in Connecticut. We are so fortunate to have Theo as an instructor who is also a role model and a positive example of representation and impact in the teaching profession.”
All supporters of the Alma Exley Scholarship Program may find it gratifying that two outstanding members of our scholarship family are working to fulfill Alma’s vision of an education profession that looks like America.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of attending a speech by Dr. Miguel Cardona knows what an inspiring and compelling speaker he is. As U.S. Secretary of Education, he speaks from the heart as a devoted advocate for the nation’s students and educators.
He was in top form again recently when he addressed the graduates at the annual commencement ceremony of Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City.
Speaking about the state of the nation’s schools following the pandemic, he compared the education community to a wilted flower. And he urged the graduates to become master gardeners in reviving the nation’s schools.
First, though, he acknowledged the honor of receiving Columbia’s Medal for Distinguished Service.
“I accept this on behalf of Avelino and Maria Cardona, and Germana Muniz,” he said, “my grandparents who took a leap of faith and traded paradise for the projects, so their children and grandchildren could have a better life. This award is theirs.”
Great Message from a Great Educator
I’m pleased to share these excerpts from Secretary Cardona’s speech. It’s a great message from a great educator. Since we honored Miguel with our scholarship in 1998, he has served as an inspiring leader as a teacher, principal, district administrator, state commissioner, and now as our nation’s premier educational leader. All who support the Alma Exley Scholarship Program are proud of Secretary Cardona and wish him well on his journey in education in the years ahead.
The Best Profession
Secretary Cardona told the graduates they were joining or advancing in the best profession at a time when they are needed the most.
“I gotta be honest,” he said. “I get inspiration for learning from all different places…even music. In fact, there is a New Yorker whose musical catalog is a soundtrack to my journey in education. Anyone ever hear of Marc Anthony?
“Well, he sang a song that, to me, is the perfect metaphor to the role of education in this country at this time. The song is Flor Pálida, which translates to wilted flower.
Education Has Become Like a Wilted Flower
“After the pandemic, education was a Flor Pálida: a flower wilting under a storm like no other.
“Marchita y desojada, casi pálida, ahogada en un suspiro.” It was gasping for air, wilted and missing its vibrant petals.
“Like the learning of our young people, it was severely disrupted.
“Mental health needs escalated.
“Academic levels hit the lowest marks in decades.
“And opportunists who stand to benefit from framing public education as a dead end created culture wars to divide school communities in order to privatize public education—the great equalizer.
“Yes, education emerged from the pandemic as a Flor Pálida.
Educators Must Become Master Gardeners
“The thing is, graduates, to recover the strength, vibrancy, and beauty of a wilted rose, you need master gardeners.
“If our education system is the wilted rose in a garden, you are the master gardeners who will bring our garden back to life.
“You are the master gardeners whose efforts will lead to a garden of beautifully diverse flowers that will continue to grow and bring hope to this country and this world.
“The song says, toward the end, ‘Recuperó el color que había perdido porque encontró un cuidador que la regara.’
“It recovered its beauty and color because it found someone to water it.
“De aquella flor, hoy el dueno soy yo!”
“Meaning, I now am responsible for that flower.
“We now are responsible for education.
Confident in the Future
“And with the master gardeners here, whether you enter the classroom, non-profit, or administrative positions, I am confident in the future of our 65 million students in America.
“So as you go forward on your journey, Teachers College degree in hand, I encourage you to muster your will in three big ways.
Passion, Not Position
“First: keep the will to chase your passion, not position.
“Look, I know how tempting it is to see your end goal as a particular job.
“But if you wait for the position you want to demonstrate the will we need, you might miss an opportunity to make a difference for students–here and now.
“I have the same passion today to serve my students, close achievement gaps, and give them every opportunity to succeed, as I did when I was a 21-year-old fourth-grade teacher with 23 students. Today, the scope is just greater. My passion never changed.
PrioritizeSystems, Not Superheroes
“The second area where we need your willpower in education is in the will to prioritize systems, not superheroes.
“I’m sure your studies here at Teachers College have shown you: there are pockets of excellence all over this country. Name any state, and you can find a superhero principal or an all-star superintendent doing incredible things.
“With your Teachers College training, you might well become the next superheroes in education. I hope you will.
“But let’s also be clear: what we need to focus on is building systems, not superheroes. Our goal is to have the improvements we bring to education outlast us in our current roles.
“So if it’s working, sustain it. If it’s broken, reimagine it. And if it doesn’t exist, build it.
“Remember: investing in our children is no different than investing in defense–both protect our tomorrow. We can’t do that without systems that last.
Teach Kids, Not Curriculum
“That brings me to my final piece of advice about how we apply our will in education.
“It came from a special education teacher in Connecticut, Rindy Hardy.
“At the time, I was just 21, and I was getting ready to leave after finishing as a student teacher. This was back in the 1900s.
“At my farewell party, she pulled me aside and said,“Miguel, never forget – you teach kids, not curriculum.”
“I think it was her way of warning me: you’re gonna get overwhelmed with the requirements of the curriculum. All the paperwork. All the rules. All the mandates from the central office.
“But you can’t lose sight of what this is really all about: working for children. Working for families. Working for people.
“Education is a people business.
Focus on Improving the Lives of Students
“See, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many degrees you have.
“It doesn’t matter what letters you have after your name.
“It doesn’t even matter if you know how to write policy.
“What matters is if you are able to use your God-given gifts to improve the lives of the students you serve. If you do, you will always be happy.
“Passion, not position. Systems, not superheroes. Kids, not curriculum. Imagine what’s possible when you put the full force of your will behind each of those priorities.
“Now more than ever, we need your courageous leadership in education.
“That means breaking the mold. It means challenging the status quo. It means being willing to get a little uncomfortable for your beliefs.
“If your bold ideas and leadership are not making some people uncomfortable, you are not pushing hard enough.
“Today, as you embark on the next phase of your journey in education, one where you serve as master gardeners responsible for cultivating a beautiful garden of learners, you will use what you learned at Teachers College to make a difference for children, and for our country.
“With you as master gardeners—our country is in good hands. Congratulations again to the Class of 2023, and thank you!”
Like many states, Connecticut is grappling with a shortage of teachers in general and teachers of color in particular.
But help is on the way.
Among a variety of initiatives supported by the state Department of Education is a program called Educators Rising. This program starts early by encouraging high school students to aspire to become teachers.
The story of Heather Miano, a teacher in New Britain, demonstrates how investing in the high school students of today can produce the teachers of tomorrow.
As a student at New Britain High School, Ms. Miano took courses and volunteered in local schools in a program that was a precursor to Educators Rising. She attended Central Connecticut State University and subsequently became an elementary teacher in her hometown of New Britain.
After beginning her career as an elementary school teacher, Ms. Miano transitioned to New Britain High School, where she teaches family and consumer sciences including child development classes. She also runs a preschool lab alongside the EdRising program.
Ms. Miano works closely with Eileen Marquez, who leads the EdRising program at the high school. They are proud that 14 EdRising students who graduated this year from New Britain High School are planning to enroll in teacher-preparation programs in college. This is up from 11 last year.
“The work within the program afforded me the opportunity to get real hands-on experience with children,” Ms. Miano said. “I learned about education from the ground up at a young age, and this validated my feelings of wanting to be a teacher. I was able to engage in lesson planning, field experiences, and networking with teachers and parents. This deepened my knowledge about the education profession.
“Looking back, I would say the program truly shaped and guided my trajectory into becoming an educator for the city that raised me,” she said.
Nearly 500 Potential Future Teachers
The program that gave Heather her start became Educators Rising three years ago. Now, nearly 500 students are enrolled in EdRising programs in high schools in Ansonia, Bristol, Hartford, Danbury, East Hartford, Farmington, Hamden, Manchester, Naugatuck, New Haven, New London, Norwich, Groton, Stamford, Torrington, Waterbury, and Windsor, as well as New Britain.
Some 83 percent of those enrolled are students of color. This could have an impact on Connecticut’s drive to increase the diversity of its educator workforce. Educators of color have surpassed 11 percent of the total workforce in recent years, and efforts are ongoing to achieve more progress.
Local Students Win Top Honors at National EdRising Conference
Twenty-six EdRising students from New Britain, New Haven, and Waterbury were among 3,000 students who attended the National Educators Rising Conference in Orlando in late June. Four of the New Britain High School students placed in the top five in the nation in their respective competitions.
Milon Angelo, who graduated from NBHS in June, placed first overall in a competition in Lesson Planning and Delivery in a CTE (Career and Technical Education) Classroom, focusing on student engagement. He plans to attend Central Connecticut State University in the fall, majoring in Secondary Education with a concentration in English.
Said Ms. Marquez, “We need more Black, male teachers, and Milon is a Black male who is passionate about fostering relationships with his future students and creating a culturally affirming classroom. We are so proud of him and all our students and their efforts at the conference.”
EdRising students at Central Connecticut State University
Don’t Wait, Get Involved
What advice would Ms. Miano give to high school students who might be considering enrolling in the EdRising program?
“Get Involved. Don’t wait it out because you are unsure,” she said. “I cannot stress it enough. I experienced quite a few hardships in my early high school years. If I hadn’t become so involved in the education pathway in high school, I don’t think I would have had nearly as many of the opportunities I’ve had over the years.
“I have seen students enter our program a bit unsure of whether to go into education. Then, all of a sudden, they reach a moment of epiphany and realize they have found their calling. They can truly see themselves entering this profession.”
Ms. Miano has completed her seventh year of teaching while earning a master’s from the University of Saint Joseph.
From a Dream to a Passion
“I was able to turn a dream into a passion,” she said. “Schooling always came relatively easy for me. However, the education pathway challenged me in a way I didn’t know I needed. By getting involved, I was challenged beyond the limits I originally set for myself and soon found that I was able to achieve so much more. The EdRising program is a monumental program that can truly model what good teaching is all about.
“It amazes me how much I’ve accomplished in seven years, and I know that I have so much more to offer as I continue to learn and grow. I am proud that I have been able to give back to the community and district that helped raise me.”