Everyone remembers a teacher who had a big impact on their life. For William Wright, special education major and president of the new registered student organization, Future Teachers of Color (FTC), that teacher was his 4th grade teacher at Spring Valley Elementary, Mrs. Wilson-Bridges. “She pushed me higher than the grade-level curriculum and instilled the importance of really valuing education. She was tough, but also focused on building relationships first,” explains Wright. She was also one of the few teachers of color Wright had during his K-12 education, an experience typical of many students in the United States.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the children in our nation’s schools consist of 49% students of color, while our nation’s teacher workforce is made up of only 20% teachers of color. This disparity is significant. Studies show that all students benefit from having a teacher of color, and students of color have better classroom experiences when matched with a teacher who shares their racial/ethnic identity, as was the case with Wright and Wilson-Bridges.
The two formed a close bond as Wright continued to work with Wilson-Bridges throughout his school years, coming back to help after school and during the summers. Inspired by her ability to have positive impact on her students’ lives, he decided to become an educator himself and continues to work with her to this day.
He entered the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) at Western Michigan University as a Future Educator Program (FEP) scholar. The FEP is a partnership between CEHD, the Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS), and the Kalamazoo Promise that is sponsored by the Pickard Family Fund and Advia Credit Union, providing additional opportunities and supports to students. Wright understood that the lack of educators of color is a nationwide problem and wondered what could be done about it. When he brought the idea of starting a student organization to his fellow FEP scholars, they were on board.
FTC was founded during the fall semester of 2019 by William Wright, Sarah Giramia, Hailey Timmerman, Jarae McCoy, and Terry Patton with help from Marcus Moore and DeShaun Cornelius. The group’s mission is to “bring together future educators of color at WMU with a focus on various topics related to career preparation, academic success, mentorship, community service outreach, and networking skills.” The group is open to students of any race and is specifically geared toward bringing together students of color. The students chose Marcy L. Peake, CEHD director of diversity and community outreach initiatives and FEP coordinator, to be their advisor.
Timmerman explains, “I wanted to be involved in creating FTC because seeing the impact a support group like FEP had on me, I wanted to extend that to all future educators whether in the scholarship program or not. Specifically for teachers of color, this is something important to me. Many of us of color do not have the connections, wisdom, or mentorship that other students have, and so to flip the script on the perception of students of color and the narrative our students have to live is huge for me. I want to see everybody win.”
The group has partnered with KPS, which provides speakers and post-talk meals during their bi-weekly meetings. Sheila Dorsey-Smith, assistant superintendent of human resources at KPS, was the first to speak with the group and continues to line up speakers and identify topics of interest the group would like those speakers to focus on. She feels FTC is an important group because there is a profound shortage of teachers of color across the nation, in our state, and in our school districts. She says, “If we don't nurture, prepare, support and encourage students of color to become teachers, our K-12 students won't benefit from having teachers who look like them. Oftentimes students of color don't continue in their quest to become teachers because they don't know how to navigate the educational system. Since we know the roadmaps and the pitfalls, we believe that if we help students of color by talking about education, by mentoring them, by helping them see that they have the necessary skills and abilities to become strong teachers we can add more teachers of color to our schools.”
The organization is still new, but their numbers are quickly growing and the group is already having an impact. McCoy shared that he is proud of the amount of people who have come to their meetings and the outside support the group has received.
Anaia Hawkins, an elementary education major in her sophomore year shares, “since I’ve joined FTC, I’ve felt more comfortable regarding the decision of my major. Many, many times I’ve second guessed myself because of people’s opinions of being an educator, and one of color at that. The organization was an answered prayer.” Dashawnna Daniels, a secondary education major in her freshmen year, has also found a sense of community in the organization: “Since I joined FTC, it has become dear to me because I’m around several other aspiring teachers that look like me and also have the same mission as me. FTC helps me feel at home and makes me comfortable to be myself.” Juana Morrison, also a secondary education major in her freshmen year shares, “this organization to me means family and diversity. In this organization I can bond with people from different backgrounds and experiences than mine. In this organization I have been able to create a new support system to help pass my classes and navigate campus life!”
Giramia is proud of the diverse group of members the organization has built. “I have heard many of them say that they were excited when they found out about our organization. We are trying to create a support system where students have easy access to the best support that applies to them.”
In addition to their bi-monthly meetings, FTC also volunteers in KPS schools, which gives its members more opportunities to interact with students and network with local administrators. Their volunteering efforts also allows students in schools to see more people of color in the field of education.
On February 29 from 11am to 5pm, the group will help host their first Inspiring Future Teachers of Color Conference in the Bernhard Center to inspire future teacher of color and potential future teachers of color through mentorship, education, networking and visibility. The event is sponsored by CEHD, Kalamazoo Public Schools, the Kalamazoo Promise and Future Teachers of Color. FTC leaders will help run all aspects of the conference including leading sessions. The event is open to high school students and undergraduate students of all races and is free to attend though registration is required.
Peake, the group’s advisor, says she is proud of the way the students have stepped up to fill the gaps they have experienced themselves for other students in both the college community and in the K-12 schools, and Dorsey-Smith says the energy of the future teachers is inspiring. She wants anyone who is considering whether or not to become a teacher to know there is a network of caring professions out there to assist them in their quest to become a teacher. “Mentors come in all colors, sizes and shapes and in this field, you will meet the most caring people who simply want to make a difference in the lives of others. Specifically, if you are having a difficult time navigating a system, find positive people who will mentor and support you. Look for the positive and always be a role model. You never know who is watching. More than anything I want prospective teachers of color to know that they have the skills, abilities, and with our help, the connections to become successful teachers.”
Through the hard work of these students, the future for future teachers and students of color has certainly gotten brighter. Someday people will look back and talk about the impact these students, and all the other future teachers of color in the organization, had on their lives.