DENVER – Teachers are some of children’s first role models. However, according to the U.S. Department of Education, fewer than one percent of all people in the teaching profession in the United States are Native American, which is compounded by a lack of Native role model teachers serving in K-12 classrooms in rural areas and reservation-based schools.
The American Indian College Fund is launching a two-and-a-half-year Native teacher education program at tribal colleges and universities serving Native communities across the country to support teacher recruitment, development and retention. Funding for the program is provided by Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies.
“As parents and educators, we know teachers not only impact skills, knowledge, and abilities of students, they also complement the role of the family as caretakers and role models,” said Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the College Fund. “The College Fund welcomes this opportunity to partner with our TCUs (Tribal Colleges and Universities) and Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies to increase the number of Native teachers of our children and youth.”
The program, called Wounspekiya Unspewicakiyapi, or teaching teachers, will increase the number of Native teachers working in Native communities while ensuring the continuity and sustainability of Indigenous knowledge and lifeways in Native students. Program graduates will go on to serve not just as teachers, but also as community advocates, role models and culture-keepers in their communities, while prioritizing a Native world view with their students.
The reason for the Native teacher shortage is systemic. A range of barriers prevent Native students from pursuing a teaching career. They include poor perceptions of the value of teaching as a career; accessibility to and awareness of postsecondary education pathways; a need for financial assistance, college preparation and career guidance support; and TCUs’ limited capacity to develop the next generation of teachers (including a lack of student teaching and college transfer opportunities to four-year degree and teaching certificate programs). Yet the development of a strong generation of Native teachers is what is needed to develop the talents and futures of Native children.
The Wounspekiya Unspewicakiyapi project is designed to support students interested in education careers from the recruitment phase to their first and second academic years, through teacher education programs to state certiﬁcation and employment. The College Fund will work with TCUs through a co-visioning process to examine obstacles to completing teacher education programs and to provide support to build upon and amplify successful practices identified by TCUs to increase student success.
Five pre-selected TCUs with existing teacher education programs will participate in the Wounspekiya Unspewicakiyapi project in the first program year. Emerging teacher education programs at other tribal colleges and universities will receive small innovation grants in the second program year, with funding based on the established capacity of teacher education programs. Established teacher education programs will be given funding priority with small grants awarded to support new programs. TCUs will be chosen based on how their programs support recruitment, retention, completion and certification upon graduation of Native students in TCU teacher education programs.
The American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 32 years. The College Fund believes “Education is the answer" and provided $15.5 million in scholarships and other direct student support to American Indian students in 2020-21. Since its founding in 1989 the College Fund has provided more than $259 million in scholarships, program, and community support. For more information about the American Indian College Fund, visit www.collegefund.org.