SJSU’s Lurie College of Education Co-Hosts K-12 Teacher Diversity Forum

by | Oct 10, 2022 | Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Lurie College faculty will discuss ways to diversify the K-12 teacher pipeline at the upcoming Teacher Diversity Forum. Photo courtesy of the Lurie College.

On Oct. 12, San José State University’s Connie L. Lurie College of Education faculty and alumni will explore strategies for recruiting and retaining a diverse teacher workforce at the Teacher Diversity Forum, co-hosted with Silicon Valley Leadership Group and presented by IBM. The event will take place from 4:30–7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

“An educator workforce that reflects the diversity of our K-12 students and their families is essential for the future of California,” said Lurie College Dean Heather Lattimer. “SJSU is at the leading edge of ensuring that we are preparing a diverse community of transformative educators for K-12 schools and classrooms.”

The event will feature a keynote address by Lurie College Associate Dean Marcos Pizzaro, as well as a panel discussion moderated by California Sen. Dave Cortese featuring education faculty Luis Poza, Rebeca Burciaga and Saili Kulkarni. Intervention specialist Erin Enguero, ’16 Kinesiology, ’20 MA Education, Teaching Credential, and fourth-grade teacher Kaitlyn Chang, ’20 MA Education, will also share how SJSU shaped them as educators. Additional guests include Milpitas Unified School District Superintendent Cheryl Jordan and California Assemblymember Ash Kalra. 

Musician and aspiring educator Elizabeth Allen, ’23 Music Education, plans to attend the forum. As a singer with a physical disability, she is appreciative of her professors’ efforts to create a safe and welcoming environment for her, onstage and off — and is cognizant of the various ways underrepresented communities can be overlooked.

“I hope the Teacher Diversity Forum touches on the idea that it isn’t just one race or one group that we need to include in the workforce,” she says. “We need to make sure when one group is included, that we reach out and help make space for all the other silenced voices, be they people of color, people of different sexual identities or disabled people. In the end, we are stronger together than we could ever be on our own. 

“The discussions on race and gender and sexual identity in SJSU’s music community have made a space for me to speak on my disabled identity and help show my colleagues and fellow future teachers what it looks like to be disabled and a successful musician, and I am very grateful for that.”

Transformative education begins with a strategic plan

Sensing the need for more diverse K-12 educators in the region, in 2018 the college created a multi-faceted strategic plan that has since helped increase the size of its teaching credential programs by over 40%.

Burciaga, who serves as the faculty executive director of the Institute of Emancipatory Education while also leading the K-12 Emancipatory School Leadership program, attributes this success in part to the collaborative nature of the strategic plan, which incentivized faculty to propose new and innovative programs. Since the adoption of the plan, faculty have created such offerings as the Early Childhood Institute and the Queer Educators and Counselors Network, and established additional paid opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to pursue careers in education. 

“Though we are in different departments, we are very much aligned with respect to the need to diversify the field and improve pedagogies to better serve the needs of our students,” she said. “The plan gave us the foundation to legitimize the work that many of us have been doing for a long time. Now that we see the investment in our work, we can scale it.”

As part of these efforts, the college has recently established multiple pathways to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree along with a teaching credential, which will help accelerate the timeline for students to get working in the classroom. 

Poza, who is associate professor of teacher education and one of the core faculty members involved in the college’s Bilingüismo y Justicia Critical Bilingual Authorization program, said this is revitalizing the pathway to teaching by recruiting and supporting a more diverse body of candidates in the teacher education program. 

The college has also introduced authorizations, certificates and teaching pathways that align with economic and workforce needs. This includes connections with credentials in mild-to-moderate and extensive support needs education, a certificate in higher education teaching and the Spartan Accelerated Graduate Education (SAGE) programs.

Spartans can shape the future of teaching

The Lurie College’s efforts to create equity-minded curricula while streamlining the path to careers in teaching caught the attention of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), inspiring the need for the event.  

“Key to Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s mission to diversify STEM is developing equitable learning environments for students of color in our K-12 schools,” said David Palter, SVLG’s senior director of higher education and workforce development.

“Our members know the research: A diverse teacher workforce boosts the academic performance of students of color — improved reading and math test scores, higher graduation rates — so we are excited to have the opportunity to scale SJSU’s successful approach.”

Jennifer Hernandez, community relations manager at IBM, agreed that employers need to invest in a diversified talent pool.

“Closing the skills gap is one of the biggest opportunities of the decade,” she said. “At IBM, we are committed to investing in the future of work, making sure we provide free education on disruptive technologies, with a focus on underrepresented communities. 

“Our commitment is a response to market, business and social needs. Namely, the private sector lacks qualified STEM professionals. This shortage represents an opportunity to channel STEM talent from underrepresented communities.”

And while diversifying the teacher talent pool is critical, it is only one piece of the puzzle, said Kulkarni, associate professor of special education. Kulkarni’s research highlights the intersections of disability and race in teacher education by using disability studies critical race theory to understand how teachers, particularly special education teachers of color, enact resistance in schools.

“We don’t just want more teachers of color,” she said. “We want teachers of color who believe in culturally sustaining practices and disability-centered practices as well. How do we think about the way we can reshape or reframe the way we educate teachers, so it is not only through a white lens? How do we center the experiences of teachers of color, so they feel like their narratives and stories are being heard?” 

Learn more about the Connie L. Lurie College of Education.