New dean of MDC School of Ed hopes to boost enrollment during a tough time for teachers
It’s a tough time to be an educator. And that goes for the people training teachers, too.
Across the country, the number of students going into teacher prep programs has been on the decline for years, contributing to the shortage of educators in the nation’s classrooms.
Meanwhile, 55% of current teachers are considering leaving the profession early, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by the National Education Association, one of the country’s teachers unions.
According to a recent study by researchers at UCLA and the University of California, Riverside more than two-thirds of principals surveyed across the country say they've seen "substantial political conflict" among community members on issues such as teaching about race and racism, policies on the rights of LGBTQ students and which books students can have access to.
Those were some of the dynamics at play as Carmen Concepción took the helm of the Miami Dade College School of Education in September.
Concepción is a product of MDC and spent two decades as a teacher and administrator in Miami-Dade County Public Schools and at Florida Virtual School. Now, as dean of the School of Education, her primary challenge is boosting enrollment.
“Enrollment in the School of Education over the past few years — across the nation — is not where it needs to be,” Concepción said. “And in order to achieve that goal, I need to work directly with the faculty and my team to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of the students.”
A key barrier for aspiring educators is the cost of their degree. For many students, it doesn’t make financial sense to shoulder thousands of dollars in student loans in order to go into a field with persistently low pay.
WLRN education reporter Kate Payne spoke with Concepción about the challenges of recruiting students and retaining teachers in the classroom.
The following is an excerpt of their conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.
WLRN: Certainly for students at MDC, many of them are working. Some are supporting their own families while they’re trying to go back to school. As you’re having these conversations with students, what are you hearing as far as what are the barriers or what may be holding them back from going into education?
CONCEPCIÓN: I have students in the School of Education who are not in internship yet because they need to save enough money so that they can stop working and then go into internship. That…that's unacceptable.
Here at Padrón, when I come during…to work [between 8 am and 5 pm], there's not a lot of students. But when I stay late or when I come on Saturday, the campus is full. That means that our students are working. They're supporting themselves and they're supporting families. So we need to find ways to support them so that they can finish their school.
For example, we signed a historic memorandum of understanding with Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
And to sort of spell out that agreement — now typically when student teachers are going out into the classroom, learning how to teach, they're not being paid. But that is changing here at MDC with this partnership. What is your hope and your vision for that program as far as getting more students as teachers in the classroom?
The goal is for them to be hired as full-time teachers, and they’ll receive a salary just like any new teacher from the school system.
When they get to internship, they’ll be hired full-time. They'll have a cooperating teacher, who's also a certified mentor, that can support them through their journey. So that, yes, they're in the classroom by themselves. But they have an expert teacher that is holding their hand, which is the same experience that I had.
I am the teacher that I am today because I had a group of individuals…when I was a student teacher who held my hand and who helped me become the teacher that I was able to become.
We know there's a lot of political pressure on education right now, with certain lawmakers, some activists, parents scrutinizing curriculum, books, and how teachers address race and identity in the classroom. And for some teachers, they say that's part of what’s making them rethink staying in the field. Is that something that MDC is addressing with students as far as how to navigate the political landscape?
We have a diversity course that all students in the School of Education take. The focus of the course is more about meeting the needs of all our students, regardless of politics, and regardless of…it's about the students. It's about making a difference for each of the students in Miami-Dade County.
Is the political landscape something that comes up in your conversations with students or faculty?
In my three months here at Miami Dade College, that has not been part of the conversation. We are so concerned in making sure that our students are prepared. We are making sure that our students are passing certification exams. We are meeting their needs when they come up. We're meeting them where they are. I'm not saying that it's not out there, I just haven't seen it.
What is your message to the district, to elected officials, to lawmakers as far as what needs to happen to keep your graduates in the classroom?
We all talk about money. We all need more money. We're going through challenging times. But I think I've always believed that the key is the support that we provide our teachers. The key is the relationships that we build along the way. That's what makes us who we are. And that is what keeps us in the classroom.
Because if you owe it to the teacher next door who's been supporting you and you owe it to the students in the classroom, you have a responsibility to the community…you're going to continue doing great work. But you need to be respected. And your voice needs to be heard.