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Teachers for a New Era seeks recruits from under-represented groups

Selena Cozart will reach out to local school systems to encourage students to consider teaching careers.
Selena Cozart will reach out to local school systems to encourage students to consider teaching careers.

By Anne Bromley

Are teachers prepared to lead multicultural classrooms? Newly hired assistant professor Selena Cozart is considering that question as part of her post with U.Va.’s Teachers for a New Era project. She is researching the best ways to enhance the teaching profession by recruiting and retaining more students, especially from under-represented groups.

Teachers for a New Era is a collaborative initiative between the Curry School and Arts & Sciences to revolutionize teacher education. Under the auspices of the Carnegie Corporation and propelled by a $5 million grant, funded by Carnegie and the Ford and Annenberg foundations as well, the Teachers for a New Era program aims to strengthen teacher education, to transform the teaching profession through better preparation and continued guidance, and to elevate its status in our culture.

Cozart, who specializes in multicultural education, will work on how to better recruit and retain new teachers from under-represented groups. Looking at Curry and peer schools, she will study what’s included and what’s missing from the curriculum that helps future teachers develop multicultural skills.

The term “under-represented” differs among academic disciplines and professional areas. Among elementary and secondary teachers, men are an under-represented group, along with individuals planning to teach math or science, teachers willing to relocate to rural areas and people of color going into the teaching profession, Cozart pointed out.

According to Victor Luftig, director of the overall TNE initiative, the Carnegie Corporation’s prospectus noted, “There is an especially pressing need for teacher candidates who represent minority communities,” a need considered alongside the shortage of teachers of science, mathematics and special education. Luftig added: “But TNE also obligates us to make ‘decisions based on evidence’ in regard to teacher preparation, so we’ve asked Selena to start by working out a rationale for determining the nature and extent of these shortages. By what ratios or expectations do we consider ourselves to have fallen short?”

Traditionally, institutions of higher education and the public schools leading up to college have co-existed as though there’s a wall between them. Cozart — who taught in Albemarle County for six years before joining the TNE project — is charged with building a bridge between U.Va. and local school divisions to figure out what ideas might encourage students to pursue teaching. She also is looking to fortify and expand the bridge that made possible the University’s five-year program that leads to bachelor of arts and master’s of teaching degrees. She will work on strengthening advising and communication between the Curry School and Arts & Sciences.

Even before students apply for the teacher’s program, Cozart will evaluate advising to first- and second-year students to see how often the advisers offer teaching as an option, she said.

To pique interest, this spring she will teach a University Seminar, “Education in Black and White: Inquiry into Issues in K-12
Education,” to a small class of first-year students.

“Multicultural education needs to be infused throughout the curriculum,” as well as have a distinct place in teacher education, said Cozart, a U.Va. alumna whose doctoral degree focused on the topic. “It’s not easy to do. If it were, it would have been done already,” she said.

Other new players in the Teachers for a New Era project:

• Patty Crawford is focusing on the development of performance-based evidence. She will visit classes and work with Curry students in the field, as well as with graduates and new teachers.

• Scott Imig is director of the TNE Assessment Center. He will head or assist several projects, along with leading the follow-up and evaluation of teacher-education graduates.

• Erika Pierce, working half time, is developing a sequence of courses for B.A. students who decide they want to teach after it is too late to enter the five-year bachelor’s/master’s program.


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