On Thursday, June 9, the Bank Street Education Center’s Prepared To Teach initiative welcomed U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona for a discussion on recruiting, supporting, and retaining high-quality teachers across the country. During the event, Secretary Cardona shared his vision for how the Department of Education, as well as states, districts, and higher education institutions, can support teachers and, in turn, improve our nation’s education system at large.
The event commenced with opening remarks from Bank Street President Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ‘00. Before a live audience of teachers and teacher candidates, as well as hundreds of others who tuned in via livestream, Polakow-Suransky offered a glimpse into Bank Street’s longstanding work supporting educators, noting “our theory of action is that teachers need to be empowered as thinkers and leaders if we hope to change what happens each day in their classrooms.”
Polakow-Suransky touched on several Bank Street programs working to improve the quality of educator preparation nationwide. First, he discussed Educator Preparation Laboratory (EdPrepLab), an initiative co-led by Bank Street College and Learning Policy Institute, which works to bring whole child design and the science of learning and development into the heart of the educator preparation curriculum. Next, he shared insight into how Prepared To Teach, who hosted the day’s event, has worked across 20 states to support local residency partnership development and state-level policy shifts to ensure aspiring teachers have both the financial support and the quality preparation they need to learn to teach well. According to Polakow-Suransky, this work is “foundational to solving the nation’s teacher pipeline shortage.”
Next, Polakow-Suransky introduced Cardona, providing background about his journey as a former teacher, principal, school administrator, and now as one of our nation’s education leaders. According to Polakow-Suransky, Cardona puts forth a “focus on equity and excellence for all learners, which has guided his work through each stage of his career.” After a heartfelt round of applause to welcome the Secretary, Cardona took the podium to deliver his remarks.
Cardona opened by taking a moment to recognize the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, honoring the victims and their families while calling for sensible legislation to protect our nation’s schools and communities. He then transitioned into a larger focus on the state of education in the United States, specifically around how we can better support our teaching workforce and equip educators with the resources they need to “help them do what they do best: help children grow.”
His vision for uplifting the teaching profession and ensuring that the nation attracts, prepares, and retains high-quality educators was thoughtful and comprehensive. Cardona proposed adjustments at several layers of the system, beginning with ensuring teachers are paid liveable and competitive wages that properly reflect the value of the work they do every day. In some states, he noted, teachers only earn about 67 percent of what other college-educated professionals earn, which he recognizes as one of the root causes of the teacher shortage.
But according to Cardona, “better pay is only part of the solution. We must also promote evidence-based approaches, innovation, and equity at all levels.” Other examples of his suggested strategies to support the teacher workforce, and thus our nation’s children, included extensive professional learning opportunities and better working conditions for teachers.
Cardona’s vision for the future of the education system also includes making sure the “workforce is as diverse as its students,” reminding the audience that every child benefits by learning from teachers from diverse backgrounds and naming how important it is for children of color to have teachers and other role models who look like them. He shared the story of Gary O’Neill, an art teacher Cardona had when he was in second grade, who was his first teacher of color.
“For so many of our students, having a teacher of color as a mentor, a role model, matters a lot,” he said. “And for students of color who could be on the path to teaching someday, it’s hard to be what you can’t see…. Originally, I went to school to be an art teacher because of the influence [Gary O’Neill] had on me when I was 7 years old. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for my placement in Mr. O’Neill’s Class.”
After Cardona’s speech, Karen DeMoss, Executive Director of Bank Street’s Prepared To Teach initiative, joined him for a fireside chat to continue the conversation. Recognizing how challenging the educational landscape is for educators right now and the families they serve, DeMoss asked, “What can we do as a country, as educators, as systems, to help people come into the profession and want to stay in the profession?”
“Let’s use this moment of disruption not to build it back to the way it was,” Cardona replied. “That’s not good enough. We need to see more teacher pipelines. We need more programs in our high schools that let our students see themselves as potential teachers in the future. We need to do a better job connecting our higher ed institutions with our K-12 institutions so that there is a marriage there that produces teachers, social workers, psychologists.”
He also reiterated the value of opportunities for educators to develop their leadership skills, not even solely for the purpose of achieving leadership positions, but also to acquire skills like mentorship, strategic planning, and event organizing, among others. He added, “We need to make sure we’re investing in programs that give teachers the opportunity to use their voice, use their talents, use their gifts, to make the school and the district a better place.”
The Secretary also noted that we need to think about funding for aspiring teachers. “It was inspiring to hear the Secretary speak of the importance of supporting teachers financially—including student teachers who spend countless hours in the classroom gaining experience,” said DeMoss. She continued, “For six years, Prepared To Teach has been looking for ways to support a system that values diversity, retention, and quality by removing financial barriers to teaching. For this to be a policy priority will change the profession for the better.”
Bank Street was thrilled at the opportunity to hear Secretary Cardona’s rich vision as the College continues its work to improve the education of children, families, and the adults who teach and work with them.
If you were unable to attend the event, watch the livestream here