Promoting the Retention of Prospective Teachers through a Cohort for College Freshmen

By Lucas, Tamara; Robinson, Jennifer | High School Journal, October-November 2002 | Go to article overview

Promoting the Retention of Prospective Teachers through a Cohort for College Freshmen


Lucas, Tamara, Robinson, Jennifer, High School Journal


This article describes a cohort of freshmen planning to become teachers at Montclair State University (MSU) in New Jersey. The goals of the cohort are to identify freshmen, especially students of color, with an interest in becoming teachers, to provide them with a supportive community as they make the transition from high school to college, and to increase their retention at the university and in teacher education as a result of this early support. A study of the cohort highlights six salient elements--identifying prospective teachers in their first year in college, creating a sense of community that supports them in the transition into higher education, supporting their adjustment to the university environment, building confidence in their academic skills, socializing them into the teaching profession, and mentoring students who feel competing pressures from home, peers, and school.

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Two factors are intensifying the need for new teachers. First, large numbers of teachers will soon reach retirement age (Hussar, 1999). Second, the number of students is increasing at unprecedented rates. The student population is projected to surpass 48 million by 2008, up from 43.5 million in 1993 (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 1997). The growing number of students of color is also heightening the need for teachers of color. They can be role models for children of color (King, 1993), serve as resources for colleagues (Villegas & Lucas, 2002), and facilitate connections between home and school for students of color (Gay, 2000; Irvine, 1990; Robinson, 1997). However, the demographics of the U.S. teaching force contrast sharply with those of the K-12 student population. In the 1995-96 school year, for example, students of color comprised 35.2% of U.S. elementary and secondary public school enrollments, while people of color constituted only 9.3% of the teaching force (NCES, 1997).

In this article, we describe an initiative to identify college freshmen with an interest in teaching--especially students of color--and to retain them through graduation and entry into a teaching career. College freshmen constitute a readily accessible pool of potential teachers. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to attract and retain such students in teacher education. Freshman and sophomore students may turn their attention to professions other than teaching if they receive no encouragement or support from the institution to become teachers prior to declaring a major (Hood & Parker, 1991) or if they have not taken required courses when it is time to enter the teacher education program. If they do not find a clear direction by their second or third year in the university, they may drop out altogether.

Attracting and retaining students of color in teacher education can be especially difficult (Villegas, 1997) for a variety of reasons: competition by other academic programs for students of color (Kirby & Hudson, 1993); the challenging conditions of teaching, particularly in urban schools (AACTE, 1987); the relatively low salaries of teachers (Archer, 2000); and increasing parental pressures on many students to choose other professions that have higher status and salaries (Gordon, 1994). In addition, many students of color may leave the university before reaching their sophomore year if they receive no support in the difficult transition from high school to college (Rendon & Garza, 1996; Tinto, 1987). Especially if they are among the first in their families to attend college, they may find that becoming part of the college culture distances them from their family and friends, resulting in stress on their relationships and on their own sense of identity (Gandara, 1995; London, 1989; Rendon, 1992). These and other factors contribute to the attrition rate for students of color in higher education (Swail & Holmes, 2000; Tinto, 1987).

A cohort--that is, a group of students who share activities and courses over some period of time-can serve as a mechanism for supporting and retaining prospective teachers of all racial/ethnic backgrounds. …

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