The Institute for Multicultural Connections: A Teacher of Color Development Program for High School and College Students

Article excerpt

Introduction Planting Seeds for Future Teachers of Color

The Institute for Multicultural Connections is a grant-funded program supported byThe St. Paul Companies, a highlyrespected multinational Fortune 500 insurance group, and cooperatively sponsored by the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership and the St. Olaf College Education Department. Drawing on a pool of applicants who come mostly from urban high schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Institute for Multicultural Connections (IMC) brings students of color to the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, for an intensive three-day summer residential workshop designed to introduce these students to the career of teaching.

While the primary focus has been on trying to motivate promising high school students to consider teaching as a career choice, 36 college students have also attended IMC workshops over the past four years. This program has the goal of planting the seeds for future growth toward becoming a teacher. Just as the farmer tills the soil and plants the seeds that will grow to maturity, so we hope to plant the "seeds" of interest in as many young people as we can in order to reap a bountiful harvest of future teachers of color.

It is our hope that readers may find our model instructive and that some may initiate a program like ours in their own communities and institutions. To that end, this article will address the following topics:

1. The need for more teachers of color.

2. A description of our program (IMC) during its first four years.

3. Results of the program-a summary of the evaluation data.

4. Tentative conclusions.

5. Implications for the future.

The Need for More Teachers of Color

Wake up tomorrow in almost any city in the United States and you will see newspaper headlines such as the following: "Major Teacher Shortages Expected This Fall,""Two Million Teachers Needed in the Next Ten Years," or "Crisis in the Classroom-Who Will Teach Our Children?" These headlines do not exaggerate. Within the next decade the population of children in grades K-6 will increase by 3.5 million, while 60 percent of the teacher workforce is expected to retire (U.S. Department of Education,1998). And these teacher shortages will be particularly evident in the ranks of teachers of color, whose numbers are actually decreasing.

The Education Commission ofthe States (1992) estimates that by the year 2000 "...only 5 percent of teachers will be minorities [down from 12 percent in 1970] while minority students will make up about one-third of the total school enrollment" (Hardcastle & Parkay,1998, p. 244) and grow to 40 percent by 2020. Before the midpoint of the next century, these children will become the new majority in this country; in fact, they already constitute a majority ofthe school population in states such as New Mexico, Mississippi, Texas, and Hawaii and in 40 of the largest cities in the United States

While there is an undeniable need for more good teachers who set high expectations for all students, who care about their students, and who believe all children can learn, it is equally clear that there is a need for more teachers of color in schools all over this country, as our society takes on this increasing multicultural flavor. Such teachers are especially vital to children of color, many of whom attend schools with few adult racial/ethnic role models.

In the Careers in Teaching Handbook, this rationale is given: "Our schools urgently need teachers of color for several reasons: (1) to serve as role models for children of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, (2) to bring the perspectives of diverse life experiences to the challenges of teaching and learning, and (3) to create school communities that reflect the values of our pluralistic society" (1993, p. 70).

Unfortunately, a smaller percentage of minority college graduates enter teaching today, in part because there are fewer barriers for people of color to enter other professions such as medicine, law, and engineering. …