Dr. Tawanna Jones is an Associate Director at the University of Pennsylvania, Urban Teaching Apprentice Program.
PEDC’s mission is to increase the diversity of the educator workforce & create a culturally relevant and sustaining education system here in PA. How do you push this work forward in your personal and/or professional capacity?
Within the UTAP program, we are focusing a great deal of effort on creating a culturally relevant and sustaining system of education here in PA. To do this, we have restructured our Intro course to facilitate student thinking and exploration of the educational justice issues that impact teaching and learning. This is an opportunity for students to think deeply about the systemic social issues impacting the lives of the young people they will serve and imagine themselves as advocates charged with representing the students they serve beyond the classroom. We also engage students in deep thinking and evaluation of their own identities and the impact their lived experiences have on how they perceive others and how they experience and understand teaching and learning. This work sets the stage for challenging bias and binaries in the classroom. In the area of recruitment, we are thinking deeply about how to convey our understanding of teaching as social justice work and share the joy of teaching with possible candidates. We are also structuring our recruitment efforts to engage local Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions. We have established an Advisory Committee that has supported our thought work focused on recruitment and retention. We know this means a deep, honest reflection of past practices and commitment to creating environments where BIPOC students feel welcome, safe, and supported.
Why are you passionate about increasing educator diversity?
My passion for teacher diversity is rooted in my experience as a parent, educator, and scholar-activist. I deeply understand the research base that indicates students of color perform better when they have a teacher of color and the lived experience to know that representation matters. This rings true for me as the parent of a Black daughter who attended a predominately white school system I was devastated to learn how her experiences led her to form beliefs about herself and how she processed never seeing Black educators in her space from 1st grade to 8th grade. Her lack of access to Black educators significantly impacted how she developed as a human and engaged with learning. She developed many negative ideas about her racial identity and her own self-image. The work required to process these experiences certainly met the criteria for racial battle fatigue. Wearing my educator hat, I think if we are using education as a vehicle for shaping the lives of the children we encounter, children who will eventually be leaders and legislators, it is critically important that they are not only exposed to educators from all cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds but steeped in environments that promote cultural competence.
What challenges are you experiencing in this work?
One of the greatest challenges of this work is the narrative of teaching as an undervalued career and one that is full of trouble and absent joy. In my discussion with young Black people pursuing higher education, I have heard that more encouragement and support is needed in undergraduate programs to introduce education as a serious major. They are often sold that education is not a serious career. There is also a false narrative that teachers are not compensated well. In many places, this is true, but in many districts, this is not accurate, and we need to help people better understand the realities of teacher pay and the potential financial benefits of becoming an educator. Another challenge is the narrative that Black teachers, BIPOC teachers, are treated poorly in schools by other educators. I have also shared that school experiences lead Black students to question the value of Black teachers because “Black teachers seem to be disconnected from educators, it's almost like teacher push out.” The narrative becomes Black teachers…BIPOC teachers are not supported. We have to address these narratives.
Are you affiliated with any other organizations working towards addressing the recruiting, mentoring, retaining, or promoting the wellbeing of BIPOC teachers?
I am not currently affiliated with any organizations outside of PEDC that are recruiting, mentoring, retaining, or promoting the well-being of BIPOC teachers. I want to be more connected to these issues through community-based organizations that have boots on the ground. I often initiate discussions in Professional Development spaces informally. In past work, I supported new teachers as part of a Strong Beginnings: Teacher Induction program, but it did not focus on BIPOC educators. In my community education work, I am often telling the stories of my own work as a teacher in hopes that the value of teaching is recognized.
Have you used any of the PEDC available resources & toolkits? If so, how?
I have used the Culturally Relevant and Sustaining Education Competencies for Pennsylvania Educators as a resource in the courses I have taught while at Penn. I have used this document to facilitate discussion and to support students in processing how they are centering the lived experiences of their students in instructional planning. I have also used this tool as a resource for developing and hosting professional development for Philadelphia Public School educators and supporting presentations across the state related to DEI.
How can people connect with you and continue to follow your work?
Twitter: @jonseyy_all_day My tweets and post are my own.