Dr. Suzanne McCotter, Dean, School of Education, The College of New Jersey
“Here at The College of New Jersey we prepare students to be teachers very well. Superintendents across the state praise us for that. My not so secret mission here, though, is to make sure our students come out of here prepared to teach every student in the state of New Jersey. Not just students that are like them. The face of teaching right now is white women. White women can be excellent teachers. But most of our students are not white girls. Many of our students in New Jersey are kids of color, and 50 per cent of them are boys.
That means we need to approach this in two different ways. One is to make sure we think carefully about the face of teaching, the demographics of teaching: that we are not only preparing white women to be teachers. So we are trying to recruit and retain as many teachers of color as possible. The other part of that is to make sure every student we graduate is prepared to teach every student they come across in New Jersey, regardless of their demographic.
Here at TCNJ we are coming at this from several different angles. One is we have The Center for Future Educators that is supported fully by the New Jersey Education Association. The goal for The Center for Future Educators is to think about the quality and quantity of future educators in NJ. The executive director of the center, Dr. Thomas Howard, has several different ways that he is trying to explicitly diversify the teacher work force. One of the things he is doing is working with the New Jersey Department of Education on a database initiative to identify diverse school districts that also have students that do very well on standardized tests, so that we can start to make a concerted effort to recruit students to become teachers.
Another initiative that will go into effect in February is an academy focused specifically on recruiting young men of color. We are starting to work with them by the time they are in high school to get them to think about becoming teachers.
We let them know what the benefits are of becoming teachers, we set them up with mentors; we set them up and prepare them for the exams they will have to take in order to get certified as teachers. TCNJ has given them a preferred admissions track so that they can focus on being teachers.
We are trying to play both the short term game and the long term game. I have a faculty member who is out in Trenton all of the time working with teachers and doing different things so we can make sure that we are doing as much as we can to make a difference in this community here. Dr. Jonathan David, who is one of my faculty members, spearheaded the effort to have “Middle School Day” here on campus where we have middle schools from Trenton come and visit us for a day. We have TCNJ students give them tours of our campus, we have performing artists for them to watch, scavenger hunts, a career fair, and more. I also think we are starting to make inroads in preparing our current students to be able to teach our kids in New Jersey. What’s harder to see at this stage is: are we changing the demographics of teacher education. But that is our long goal.
I am doing what I can because I am in the right place to make a change. I have enough confidence in my ability but I also have the right people around me. You cannot make changes like we are making by yourself. You cannot be an individual crusader. You need a team of people who are going to do it with you, and who believe with you that you are focusing on the right things. When I got interviewed for this job, I put this on the table. This was not something I was trying to hide. I knew that if they didn’t want me doing this here, then I didn’t want to be here. But we are three years into this now, and I am very happy with the direction we are going in.”