By: Sariah Chabarria, Dr. R. Lennon Audrain, Julie Ferin
While 28% of K-12 students in the United States are Hispanic, only 9% of the teacher workforce is Hispanic. If we want an education workforce that reflects the diversity of its student population, Hispanic students will need access to college and to teacher education programs.
For decades, community colleges have played an essential role in college access. Additionally, given the institutions’ diverse demographic composition, community colleges are also essential in recruiting a diverse teacher workforce that represents the backgrounds of the students it educates. Hispanic students in particular makeup about one-quarter of community college students in the US, according to the Community College Research Center.
This article captures three perspectives on Hispanic students in community college teacher education: Sariah Chabarria, a Hispanic student in pursuit of a teaching career at Mesa Community College; Lennon Audrain, a researcher at Arizona State University; and Julie Ferin, the executive director of the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs. Notably, all three authors are (or will be) graduates of community colleges.
Sariah: As I look back at the educational system that has chewed me up and spit me out I look back in anger. The anger has lit a fire within every Latina education major I know. We have all had the same shared experiences. As a Latina in Arizona, I never was able to look to the front of the classroom and see someone that looked like me. I will enter the educational setting in hopes of providing students representation. To show students it does not matter where you start. It is possible to earn a college degree. I want to take this time as I begin to enter the educational workforce to look back at this huge machine that needs repairs and ask myself what can I do. What do I need to do to help future students?
Sariah’s experiences in K-12 which lacked exposure to Hispanic teachers is not surprising, given that of Arizona’s 58,000 teachers, only 16% are Latino, according to ALL in Education.
However, Sariah’s ardent pursuit of a teaching career is part of a larger, promising trend for Hispanic students from community colleges who are traversing a similar career journey into the education field, at least in Arizona.
Lennon: When we examine the data from 2010-2020 on Arizona students who transfer from community college to state universities and drill down into education fields, 27.7% of all transfers who completed undergraduate degrees in education were Hispanic. When we look at graduate degrees in education awarded to the transfers during the same time period, 27.4% were Hispanic.
As Lennon discussed using data from AZtransfer, community colleges play an important role in Hispanic students’ persistence to an education degree. But to get Hispanic students there, community colleges must be responsive to students’ backgrounds.
Sariah: I graduated high school with over 20 credits at Mesa Community College through the Achieving a College Education program. I felt so cared for at Mesa Community College that I decided to stay and earn my associates degree. This institution has proven to me over and over again why I chose to major in education. Every professor I have had wants nothing more than for their students to succeed. The staff here carries great pride in offering a higher education to students from every walks of life. I have been respected and celebrated the most on MCC’s campus more than I ever have anywhere else in my educational journey. It is earnest and not overbearing. I am never asked out of place about my culture nor asked to be the spokesperson of an entire community on the spot. My outward identity is no longer my entire personality when I step on campus.
What teacher candidates learn in their teacher education programs is as important as creating a culturally responsive environment at the community college level. They must be prepared to create those environments for their students, too.
Julie: Preparing effective educators to ensure their teaching practices address their students’ cultural identities is incredibly important. Teachers who really know their students, will be better able to create a classroom environment that encourages belonging, acceptance and a sense of community. It is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure multiple perspectives are represented within the physical space, their instructional delivery methods and the tools that they use. What is equally important is having culturally relevant curricula to motivate, engage and ensure students are able to connect with the content. There are multiple ways that a teacher can create an environment that supports the representation of multiple perspectives, i.e., diversity of authors in the classroom library, guest speakers to represent various cultures, and assignments that impact the local community. The best outcome from preparing teachers who feel confident in delivering culturally relevant pedagogy is fostering lifelong learners who are connected with their community.
From Sariah’s experiences and the data, community colleges continue to do important work to create a more diverse teacher workforce, especially for Hispanic teacher candidates.
As Sariah notes, “Through Mesa Community College I have been granted an immeasurable amount of support and resources. My voice has been amplified time and time again allowing me to make ripples in what will soon be a new wave of educators fighting for the betterment of education.”
About the Authors
Sariah Chabarria is a student at Mesa Community College and is working towards becoming an elementary level teacher. She will transfer to Rio Salado College in August 2024.
R. Lennon Audrain, PhD, is a researcher at Arizona State University and the executive board president of the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs.
Julie Ferin, MEd, is the executive director of the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs.