Students Today, Teachers Tomorrow

Story by: Abraham Proctor

When Daphne Bussey decided that education was the only career that would stimulate her mind and satisfy her soul, she chose PCC because she believes it’s one of the best places in the state for teacher training.

"We were held to very high standards, and when that happens you appreciate it," said Bussey, who recently finished her first year of teaching at the new Rosa Parks Elementary School, located in the New Columbia development in North Portland. "It taught me to demand more from myself and to never accept less than I can achieve."

Bussey graduated last year from the Portland Teachers Program, a partnership between PCC and local four-year universities, which helps fill the need for more teachers of color inside classrooms.

The term "achievement gap" refers to the disparity in educational achievement and performance among groups of students, especially groups defined by gender, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. This achievement gap is a problem for the country as a whole and has lasting financial and social repercussions because it restricts many talented people from access to higher education, good jobs and meaningful participation in society.

The PCC program, which has its head-quarters at Cascade Campus, strives to help close the achievement gap by encouraging and supporting new teachers of color to enter the public school system.

"It’s harder to teach today than it used to be," said program director Deborah Cochrane. "A larger percentage of kids come to school with more challenging issues than ever before, issues that impact their ability to succeed in school."

Classrooms also are more culturally and ethnically diverse than ever before, she added, presenting teachers with the need to understand a broader range of learning styles and world views.

A lot of teachers are not equipped to deal with these challenges, Cochrane said, especially when they come from a different cultural background than their students. The program addresses this issue directly by preparing instructors to teach students from diverse backgrounds, not just those from their own background.

While the program is open to prospective teachers of any ethnicity, its emphasis is on training the next generation of teachers of color, Cochrane said, adding that there is a shortage of such teachers in Oregon. According to the state Department of Education, minority students comprise 43 percent of Portland Public Schools’ enrollment, while minority teachers account for only 12 percent of the district’s certificated faculty.

Students need to see teachers who look like them and they need role models who represent success, Cochrane said.

"If you raise kids to be critical, creative thinkers, you change society," she added. "If you raise children who love their teachers, and their teachers are people of color, then racism simply can’t survive anymore."

The program is a partnership between PCC, Portland Public Schools, the Beaverton School District (which joined this year), Portland State University and the University of Portland. Once students complete two years of lower-division course requirements at PCC, they matriculate to either Portland State University or the University of Portland to complete their bachelor’s degree and graduate work in education. Tuition is paid by the college the student is attending.

Since its inception in 1989, more than 100 PCC students have graduated from the program and many found teaching or administrative positions in the public school system. Local school districts value the program, said Ed Schmitt, Interim Superintendent for Portland Public Schools.

"The Portland Teachers Program is viewed by us as one important component of an overall workforce diversity strategy. In addition to providing a crucial pipeline for under-represented teachers in the district, it also reflects a model of how we can work creatively with PCC and PSU towards common objectives," Schmitt said. "We look forward to the successful future of PTP and the benefits it will have on our students."

Mercedes Miller, a current PTP student, is blending her social awareness and activism with a career that serves the community.

"Before I settled on the idea of teaching I often felt like a bit of a social misfit. I am way too opinionated, socially active and vocal," she said.

Since joining the program she’s discovered that activism and leadership are critical components to teaching.

"I want students to find a niche of their own and foster their own critical thinking, even when it is uncomfortable for me as their teacher. This is the power of education – to inform, equip and deploy," she said.

The program’s 2007 graduates

The Portland Teachers Program – a collaboration between Portland Community College, Portland State University, The University of Portland, Portland Public Schools, and the Beaverton School District to place more teachers of color in public school classrooms – held its annual Celebration of Students ceremony May 18 at PCC Cascade Campus. The program’s 2007 graduates are, from left, Amanda Hans, Everline Young, Miranda Lobert, Darryl Miles, Francisca Alvarez, Silvia Lewis and Yolanda Fields. Miles already has been hired by Portland Public Schools to teach in the new Boys Academy at Jefferson High School.