Coming home: Roxbury Prep’s answer to the teacher shortage

Our own graduates are helping form the next generation of the teachers

TO BE AN educator has truly been a gift. And though many might say the children and families that educators’ serve are beneficiaries, I would argue that, in fact, it’s educators that reap some of the greatest rewards. It is in this context that the continued stress, pressures, and duress on our educational institutions warrant great concern as we enter what will likely be a multi-generational teacher shortage.

There’s a lot at stake. The teacher shortage in Massachusetts is more prevalent than ever, with one recent analysis reporting 14 percent of early career teachers quit their teaching positions 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic. And three months into the current school year, districts still struggle to fill open positions for teachers and paraprofessionals, as well as critical roles like guidance counselors and school psychologists.

For college students considering the profession, there’s no substitute for hands-on experience in a genuine teaching environment. And for administrators looking to find dedicated new talent, it’s more important than ever that they proactively offer opportunities for college students to get a feel for teaching while at the same time absorbing the culture and ethos of a school.

This commitment to reach into the college ranks to engage would-be teachers has been a major factor in driving our recruiting success at Roxbury Prep, a public charter school that serves 1,300 Boston students in grades 5-12.

Our summer teaching fellowship, a five-week program, offers real-life classroom experience to rising college seniors. Most of the fellows return to college in the fall with an offer in hand to teach at Roxbury Prep following graduation. The program has been in place since 2016 and has been a major source for filling our teacher pipeline. This past summer was particularly gratifying as three of Roxbury Prep’s alumni came back as teaching fellows with the goal of securing a full-time position in the place that gave them their educational foundation.

The summer teaching fellowship also is advancing another important goal: bringing more teachers of color into our classroom. More than 70 percent of the Roxbury Prep teaching fellows are young people of color. At Roxbury Prep, over 50 percent of our teachers identify as people of color, four times the Massachusetts average, more than double the national average. Perhaps more importantly, these teachers offer a significant level of representation to our students, 97 percent of whom are students of color. Our fellowship reflects our school’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, better serves our students, and has increased learning outcomes for students across the board.

The summer teaching fellowship includes a two-week shadow placement so fellows can see what a day is like. Then fellows teach, with mentor feedback, in a summer academy. They not only serve as instructional educators, but also as culture carriers, advisors, and mentors, and are embedded into the life of scholars and families at a critical time during the school year.

The experience combines practical experience — the how — with the culture, philosophy, and purpose of the school — the why. The fellowship also allows for continued reflection, feedback, and engagement to ensure that authentic collaboration in the service of, hopefully, lifelong educators and the promise to scholars and families go hand in hand.

It is that sense of purpose that convinces many of our teachers to choose to teach at Roxbury Prep, where they affirm their belief in a greater need for people of color to teach people of color. More importantly, they play a role in preparing students from historically underserved  communities to enter, succeed in, and graduate from college, which has been our mission since our founding in 1999.

The rewards come to our teachers in many and sometimes unexpected ways. One of our teachers, a graduate of the fellowship program, received a note from a student not long after she began teaching full time. The student wrote that he hoped “to grow up to be the young gentleman you hope I can be,” a message that every teacher hopes to receive and one that this teacher revisits when she needs inspiration on hard days.

Meet the Author
When we invest, collaborate, and build with our alumni, and with new educators in the space, they do more than help fill a teacher pipeline. We also cultivate teachers who get support, insight, and experiences that match their passions, resilience, and commitment that can, eventually, transform the space for ourselves, for our young people, and for our families.

Shradha Patel is co-founder of Roxbury Prep High School.