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For a more diverse teacher pool, school districts growing their own

Buffalo State College

These days, "grow your own" isn't just a slogan for gardeners. It's also a slogan in education.

These days, fewer of the traditional young people are heading into teaching, choosing other lines of work instead. At the same time, there are a lot of teacher aides and teaching assistants out there who can be helped to jump through the hoops of teacher education.

For a school system like Buffalo or for some of the suburbs, those aides and assistants are more likely to look like many of the students and speak the languages immigration has brought here. Buffalo School Board Member Lou Petrucci has long been an exponent of working with the immigrant talent pool.

"It also provide them a job. Teacher education has been the first step on the ladder to the American dream for a variety of different immigrants, including my grandmother," Petrucci said. "Also, it would help the people in terms of language and other skills, as well. I think it particularly, noting Buffalo's immigrant population, that it's a great idea. It would have a lot of value for the schools, for the parents, for the children, for the entire community."

Buffalo State College has been doing this, with some money funneled through the city school system. BSC Education Dean Wendy Paterson said these are adults, often with college and graduate degrees and with knowledge of what they are getting into, because they have been in the classroom as an assistant or an aide.

"In growing your own, we go for the low-hanging fruit, which is people who already have their bachelor's degrees, who are working in classrooms, who have been with kids, who have watched what teachers do, who have participated in the life of the school, who have worked with families, who are often parents themselves," Paterson said.

Paterson said suburban schools - especially in the first ring - are also looking for a more diverse starting teacher population speaking a variety of languages for the classroom.

There are also more people interested in career changes. Paterson said there were 60 applicants from career-changers this school year, a rising total.

"Returning adults are sometimes really a joy to prepare in teacher education because they have such rich backgrounds," she said. "They've raised families. They've been with kids. They've worked in classrooms. So they bring a host of what we call dispositional skills to the study of teaching."

Drawing on these new talent pools is also important because fewer of the traditional people are coming through the standard path of college training to become young teachers. That's even at a time when there are jobs for people who want to teach.

Buffalo Associate Superintendent for Human Resources Jamie Warren said the district wants a strong training program.

"Create an enriched and meaningful experience, the whole residency programs, teacher residency," Warren said. "So for one entire year, they're partnered with a master teacher and they have a rich curriculum and they have a rich experience that helps them come into the profession feeling more supported. It's at the point now where it's not a choice, it's an opportunity to keep your teacher ranks flowing."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.