CPS and Miami University team up to address teacher shortages and grow a more diverse workforce

Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is a public metro school district of over 34,000 students in 65 schools across the district. It is one of Cincinnati’s largest employers with about 6,500 full- and part-time employees, but they need to hire more.

CPS college manager Emily Moroney says that, like many schools across the country, CPS is facing a teacher staffing shortage.

“We have seen a decline, both nationally and regionally, in enrollment in teacher education programs with our higher education partners,” Moroney explains.

“Nationally, there are about half a million fewer teachers in classrooms than prior to the start of the pandemic three years ago.”

CPS needs to fill about 300 positions annually just to keep up with natural attrition from retirement and career changes, but there is a lack of qualified applicants waiting in the pipeline to be hired.

Diversity in staffing is also a challenge. African American men represent only 4% of CPS’s teaching staff, yet 61% of CPS’s student body identify as Black or African American.

“We are focused on staffing our classrooms with individuals that represent our district’s robust and diverse socio-economic and racial or ethnic diversity,” Moroney explains, but it doesn’t always happen organically. Creating the pipeline for under-resourced and minority students to a university and back again to teach requires intentionality.

Cincinnati Public Schools has a partner in this endeavor—Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

TEACh Cincinnati is a partnership between these two institutions to identify students with an interest in education, mentor them through high school, transition them into college at Miami, and then welcome them back as teachers within Cincinnati Public Schools.

“TEACh Cincinnati, formerly known as MU TEACh,” Moroney says, “is the result of Miami University's 15 plus years of engaged work in our local Cincinnati neighborhoods.”

“TEACh Cincinnati is set to not only address the teacher staffing shortage here at Cincinnati Public Schools, but to ensure that we are providing avenues of access and early support for our historically excluded students, helping to grow a diverse workforce capable of understanding the social and cultural challenges that many students in an urban district face.”

In the classroom

Nathaniel Bryan is an associate professor of primary education at Miami University. He holds a Ph.D. in early childhood education and specializes in issues of equity and diversity, critical race theory, culturally relevant teaching, urban education, and Black education. In addition to teaching courses in language, literacy, and culture, he works in the recruitment and retention of minority students in the education department.

Bryan was involved in the 2018 inception of TEACh Cincinnati and now co-leads one of the two active cohorts of students at Aiken High School in College Hill. Twice a week, Bryan teaches a class called Sociocultural Foundations of Education. This class is heavy on pedagogical and cultural theory.

Right now, Bryan is taking them through Chezare A. Warren’s book Centering Possibility in Black Education. In his class, Bryan engages his students in a discussion about the cultural barriers and structural inequities facing young people of color and how education can inspire “Freedom Dreaming,” a term coined by historian and academic Robin D. G. Kelley.

“We don’t ask Black children to dream,” Bryan tells his class. We are often too concerned with their survival. But education, he tells his students, can awaken something more in young Black children.

He speaks to the class about things like Afrofuturism and creativity. (He provides the pop culture example of The Black Panther, something they all connect with.) They brainstorm together about educational programs and projects that can engage young Black students in “freedom dreaming” of a better future for themselves and their communities. At the end of the semester, they will dream up an educational program of their own.

The students in Bryan’s class are all juniors and seniors. All of the students live around the College Hill and Colerain area of Cincinnati, and most are young men. A handful of this first cohort of students has already graduated into college; about 10 remain at Aiken High School.

These students were recruited into the program before they even entered high school, expressing interest after a presentation about the opportunity to hop on a pipeline from high school to college and straight into a career in education.

For those who complete the TEACh Cincinnati high school program, there are dedicated scholarships and grants available to defray the cost of attendance at Miami University, including up to full tuition coverage.

Emily SmithFor Aiken student Emily Smith, the financial perks were a motivator.

She explains, “I was worried about financial needs for my father, so I wanted to take that burden off him… I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I’ve always wanted to help people. So, this is a good fit.”

Her plan is to attend Miami University and then continue on as a preschool teacher, possibly working with students with special needs.

Chris LewisA few other students say their decision to become teachers was inspired by their experiences with a favorite teacher. This is student Chris Lewis’s story. His plan is to attend Miami University this fall and return to CPS to teach 10th grade Geometry.

Student Leonard Dangerfield has a similar story. He explains:

“When I was around middle school, I didn’t have as much of a connection to school… but there was one teacher in that school that really helped me focus on school and stick to my grades. I want to be like that teacher toward other students—a positive role model.”

He says the Miami’s TEACh Cincinnati partnership has been a unique experience for him, addressing some deeper issues of culture and ethnicity that the standard school curriculum does not provide.

Leonard DangerfieldHe explains, “It is a learning experience that includes a lot of my culture. We go into a lot of the African American Studies that they don’t usually go into in school… I don’t think it just touches on it; it does a deep dive.”

At the university

In 2022, 8 students from the TEACh Cincinnati program graduated into Miami University. Teri’ana Joyner was one of them. She’s now in her second semester of college.

When she started at Aiken High School, she says she hadn’t even thought about plans for college or her career. But, when the representatives from Miami University came to the school and did a presentation about the new TEACh Cincinnati program, it piqued her interest and she signed up.

“It was the full ride scholarship that got me interested,” she remembers, “but I stayed with the program and fell in love with learning.”

It was the class about African American History that really captured her interest. Even though she was Black student at a predominantly Black school, it was something she’d never learned about before.

“I think that class needs to be taught everyone,” she says. “It’s not just my history. It’s everyone’s history and I want everyone to benefit from it. It creates a conversation that hasn’t happened because some people are uncomfortable talking about race issues.”

Teri'Ana JoynerJoyner is enthusiastic about her education, exuding a confidence that comes—at least in part—from the support and guidance she has received in the TEACh program and at Miami. She says the TEACh program involved campus visits and mentoring relationships with faculty at Miami. She felt connected to the Miami community long before she stepped on campus as a student.

Navigating the university system is complicated and Joyner says there were a lot of “unknowns” when she and her fellow graduates were transitioning to campus life. But her instructors were right by her side to help with the transition, offering a “whatever you need, we’re going to future it out” attitude.

That said, being a Black student at Miami is still a challenge.

Dubbed a “public ivy league” institution, Miami U is home to 16,500 undergraduate students. It is ranked Number 1 among Ohio public universities. And while it has a culture of inclusion and aspires to more ethnic and cultural diversity, fewer than 1,000 students at the university identify as Black or African American.

Culture shock was inevitable.

“I knew Miami was a PWI (a Predominantly White Institution),” Joyner says, “but I didn’t know what that would really mean.”

She says she and her fellow Aiken grads were “hard to miss” when they appeared on campus. But she says with a playful laugh, they embraced it. They made sure they were seen on their own terms.

“We went to every event on campus,” she says. “We fully engaged with university life from the start.”

Joyner is studying African American Studies and hopes to teach African American History to her own students someday, perhaps at her alma mater, Aiken High School.

The future for TEACh

There are other “home grown” scholarship and talent recruitment programs like TEACh around the country, but Bryan says Miami’s program is unique in its closed loop design. When those who transition out of CPS and into Miami complete their education degree, they will transition back to CPS where teaching positions are waiting for them.
Bryan is excited about how this program addresses both the specific need for teacher recruitment at Cincinnati Public Schools and the need for a more diverse student body at Miami University.

“It has always been my desire to ensure that we have teachers of color is school spaces, so I felt like establishing this ‘grow your own’ initiative by recruiting high schoolers who are interested in teaching would be a great way to see if we can increase the number of teachers of color in our schools.”

“[TEACh Cinicnnati] has a dual function to ensure that we’re diversifying our College of Education, as well as the teaching workforce.”

Bryan sees this as a big step forward, institutionally speaking. And, because he has been with TEACh since its inception, he’s seen the personal growth in his students, as well.

He comments, “It’s amazing how [the students] have progressed over time and, over the years, I’ve seen how they’ve grown and matured and evolved academically. They have become some of the fiercest advocates for our program.”

In October of 2022, CPS announced plans to expand the TEACh Cincinnati program across the entire school district over the next 5 years. The expansion began this year at Oyler School and Withrow University High School. There is also a second cohort of sophomore and junior year students at Aiken High School enrolled in the program.
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Liz McEwan is a proud wife, mama, urbanite, musician and blogger. Follow her at The Walking Green and on twitter at @thewalkinggreen.