Three Educators and An Idea

In June, three diverse educators from Hastings College in Nebraska hit the ground running with an idea that was planted during the 2017 NEA student leadership conference in Boston that coincided with NEA’s Representative Assembly and Annual Meeting.

Casey Molifua, a first-year instructor of physical education at Hastings, along with Steven Dunham, a second-year student earning a master’s degree for K–12 physical education and health, and Tahj Willingham, a senior majoring in K–12 physical education and elementary education, were asked to start an initiative that advocates for the teaching profession and helps to recruit ethnic and minority educators.

According to a 2017 Johns Hopkins report, when low-income black students, in grades 3–5, have at least one black teacher in elementary school the likelihood that these students will dropout declines by 29 percent, and the likelihood that they will graduate high school and consider attending college goes up.

Armed with statistics like these, the trio took the task to heart and created an initiative called Ethnic and Minority Educators for a Legacy (EME4L), which sets out to educate others about the need for diversity in the teaching profession, and encourages young people— particularly people of color—to join the profession.

“Teachers who look like us are not going and staying in the field of education,” says Molifua. “We’re three ethnic educators who are a voice to let students [of color] know that education is a field they can pursue.”

No Stone Unturned

The group connects with students from elementary school to college.

At Hastings’s Lincoln Elementary school, for example, Molifua, Dunham, and Willingham show off their skills and passion for education through a social justice book club they created. The book club features culturally appropriate books that represent diverse (race, class, gender, abilities, and learning disadvantages) student populations.

Working with young students give the educators the opportunity to highlight their profession and show young kids that education is a profession to consider. “We started in our local community because we want to advocate and expose kids who have similar backgrounds as us and show them that education is a field they can pursue,” says Tahj Willingham.

The group also works with high school and college students. This spring, they’ll visit with a handful of colleges in a career-fair setting and share their story as to how they became involved in education, and encourage others to do the same.

This work goes beyond just recruitment, too. Steven Dunham says, “Not only do we want to recruit more ethnic and male teachers into education, but we want to be a support system for them so that they remain in the profession, which adds value to our students’ educational experience.”