FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.
Many of America's big city schools have a shortage of qualified teachers. In many cases the people in the classroom aren't even certified. In response, schools are reaching out to non-traditional candidates and training them for the classroom. The initiative is called Grow Your Own Teacher. Programs are sprouting up all over the country including the Midwest.
That's where Anne Hallett directs Grow Your Own Illinois, and she joins us now. Also have Anita Sanders, a 42-year-old mother of three and a teacher candidate in Chicago. She'll have her teacher credentials in 2009. Welcome to you both.
Ms. ANITA SANDERS (Candidate Teacher, Grow Your Own Teacher, Illinois): Thanks.
Ms. ANNE HALLETT (Director, Grow Your Own Teacher, Illinois): Thank you.
CHIDEYA: So, Anne, why don't you tell us how the Grow Your Own program works?
Ms. HALLETT: Grow Your Own Illinois is a community-based statewide initiative to help non-traditional candidates who are parents, community leaders, teacher's aides. Many of them attend college to become highly qualified teachers. It works by a partnership of a community-based organization, a higher education institution and usually a community college and a school district or a group of schools come together and figure out how their program is going to work locally and then recruit candidates.
There are now 16 of these partnerships operating in Illinois who have recruited 587 candidates; 85 percent people of color. We - the Grow Your Own Teacher's Act is in state law, and we have received a million - seven and a half million dollars in state funds to - for this side up to now - up to the second year of implementation.
CHIDEYA: So Anne, what qualities do you look for in someone because people walk through the door with different credentials and how do you decide?
Ms. HALLETT: Well, we look for people who have the kinds of leadership capabilities that Anita has. People who are - love the kids, love working in the neighborhood schools, have enormous numbers of assets, are going to succeed academically, and are going to succeed because they really care about the kids in the neighborhood schools.
CHIDEYA: Now, Anita, how did you even find out about this?
Ms. SANDERS: Oh, it's funny. I was doing laundry one day in Oak Park, Illinois and I found it in a newspaper article and it said if you desire to be a teacher, we have education - free education for - to be a teacher. And I always wanted to be a teacher. I worked as a teacher assistant for Chicago public schools and I didn't have the credentials.
I was actually pulled out to teach - I was pulled out to teach nine students, but wasn't getting paid just like a teacher and wasn't being treated like a teacher, so I called this number and I knew this was meant to me because it's -their phone number was transposed in the newspaper. And I sat there and I transposed until I found the number, and I called, and I started classes two months after I got into the program. And I…
CHIDEYA: You had to basically pass a test to even get the right phone number?
Ms. SANDERS: Right.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SANDERS: Yeah, so - and I've been succeeding ever since. And I think it's a very good program, and I'm looking forward to working in - with the children in the inner city studies.
CHIDEYA: So what exactly is the program like for you?
Ms. SANDERS: It's a network of different people, and people coming from different backgrounds. Some start - some - I've had some college credit hours already and some just started - had just - this is, like, their first time in college, so it's a network of seeing different people from different areas, different backgrounds. Some are already working in the schools as teacher's assistants, some are parents, some are grandparents. And I think it's a great opportunity because our schools are in need of these very good teachers that are - that know the children, that are willing to stay there with the children because inner city children have, you know, problems and we want teachers that's going to stay there and people that have concern for the children in the community.
CHIDEYA: Now, Anita, you have two children of your own who are still in school. What does being a parent teach you about being a teacher?
Ms. SANDERS: I think it's a great opportunity. My youngest daughter - her attitude about school at first was, like, you know, is all this necessary, but she's seen me. I'm on the honor roll at school, and so she's gotten better in school. I have my 15-year-old, she's the straight-A honor roll student she's always been. And they see me, you know, doing - in my studies and seeing that I'm succeeding and it's helped me and my family a - tremendously.
CHIDEYA: Anne, when you think about the different paths that people are taking to become teachers, is there any resistance on the part of teachers who've gone the more traditional path to these new teachers coming in?
Ms. HALLETT: We're really developing relationships between the teachers who are already teaching in the schools where we hope the Grow Your Own candidates will be hired. And many of them are actually working as mentors for the teacher candidates. Our teachers are going - the Grow Your Own Teachers are going through exactly the same program that any other teacher in Illinois who wants - any other person in Illinois who wants to become a teacher goes through. It's not an alternative certification program. It's a regular college-based teacher education program.
So - and we're going to be - one of the values I think of having the community organizations that are sort of at the core of this program is that they are developing really strong relationships with their local schools. And so we're going to be doing a lot of relationship building among the Grow Your Own candidates and the community organizations and the schools and teachers and principals who are already teaching in the schools. So we see them as being a key ally.
CHIDEYA: What's the success rate for people in the program?
Ms. HALLETT: We're only - the model for this program started in 2000 and the first graduates are now coming out from that program. The Grow Your Own program overall is only in its second year of implementation, so we don't have a lot of graduates yet, but we will start having them probably in the next couple of years as I think you mentioned there are now - we're now identifying people both who have some college already. Many are - more are beginning to actually be ready now to enter the college of education. So they'll be starting to graduate in the next two or three years.
CHIDEYA: Anita, do you think that there's a value to having people who are in the community, not just that they know the school, but also you can walk down the street and, you know, say, hey, Ms. Sanders, hey, Ms. Sanders, and get a little feedback as you leave the classroom?
Ms. SANDERS: I think it is. I think one of the - some of the problems with some of the teachers we have now, they're coming in to the inner city schools, they're not staying long, they're - by me living in the inner city and seeing what the children - how they're living and what some of the - and understanding some of the difficulties they have at home that they bring to school, to have a little concern - more concern and understanding that they have problems that, you know, arise at home then they come to school. And the teachers - I think this program and most of the people in the program, like myself, have a desire to see these children move on and desire to stay there longer to, you know, don't mind the teacher's touching you, don't mind extra - for extra - extra help in questions and to just be there at the program to see these children succeed.
CHIDEYA: Well, Anita and Anne, thank you so much.
Ms. SANDERS: Thanks.
Ms. HALLETT: Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Anne Hallett is director of Grow Your Own Illinois, a program that helps non-traditional candidates become teachers. And Anita Sanders is one those candidates. She's currently a junior at Northeastern University in Chicago and will have her teacher credentials in 2009. Both were at NPR's Chicago bureau.