If you want to know why Keiren Minter wants to be a teacher, you have to understand who he was in first grade. “I wasn’t always the best student,” says Keiren. “And my teacher Ms. Reed would ask me to stay in for extra support during recess. I used to be so mad at her, but now I understand why she did it. I needed the extra help and she wanted what was best for me. I realize now that all it takes is one amazing teacher to believe in you.”
Keiren is a junior at Watson Chapel High School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as well as a National Ambassador for Educators Rising, a national career and technical student organization that utilizes Grow Your Own methodology for communities to grow their own teachers, opportunities for students and teachers to participate in networking, and curriculum that lays the foundation for students to become highly skilled educators.
Ms. Tiffany Jackson is Keiren’s mentor at Watson Chapel and also serves as the school’s Educators Rising Teacher Leader. Herself a graduate of the high school, Tiffany grew up in Pine Bluff in a family of educators.
“Poverty is a real issue here and not all our kids are coming from a great home,” she says. “That’s why it’s so important to have good, homegrown teachers who understand where you came from — who can call your mama if they need to.”
To reach their full potential, all students need great teachers like Ms. Jackson — but some communities in the Delta today still lack access to the resources, training and certification pathways teachers and schools need for success.
According to 2021 research from The New Teacher Project, more than 50% of teachers in some Arkansas Delta counties are uncertified, compared to a national average of 1.7%.
As part of our five-year strategy to help build a strong pipeline of quality teachers in the region, the Walton Family Foundation is partnering with Educators Rising in the Delta to provide greater access to training and instructional materials.
“It’s hard for us to recruit great teachers to the Delta. They want to go to the new high schools with more resources,” says Ms. Jackson. “If they do come, turnover rate is high. But if we can grow our own teachers, we can create a cycle of hometown folks who want to get educated, come home, and give back.”
Every morning during first period, Keiren and nine other Watson Chapel students join Ms. Jackson for their Educators Rising coursework. She teaches her aspiring educators how to set up a classroom, various pathways to becoming certified and how to engage with students in a meaningful way.
“A lot of kids in Pine Bluff are scared to show how smart they are, and some are dealing with a lot of difficulty at home,” Keiren says. Through the Educators Rising Curriculum, “Ms. Jackson teaches us all about equity and how to support different kinds of students. If I wasn’t taking this coursework now, it would be harder for me to learn this stuff later.”
To know that I can mold young minds? It feels like the best job in the world.
In her class, Ms. Jackson is also honest with her students about the challenges of teaching, particularly at a school that receive federal funds to support vulnerable students. “You never know what you are going to get on a daily basis. But as a teacher you have to be respectful of all students and all situations. You have to have an open mind and be a caring individual. To be a teacher in Pine Bluff is way bigger than what happens in the classroom. We wear a lot of hats.”
As part of the Educators Rising programming in the Delta, the school is also working with the state department of education to ensure that students have opportunities to shadow certified teachers and gain real-world experience. They also receive college credit for their efforts.
This spring, each student in Ms. Jackson’s cohort will take the paraprofessional exam, allowing them to work as a classroom aide while getting paid for their work. When they receive their teaching certification from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff or elsewhere, they are guaranteed a teaching job in the district.
Beyond direct training, Educators Rising offers a national network of support, where students and teachers can meet peers and share their experiences, compete in events and run for leadership positions at the state and national level.
Already an ambassador for the program, Keiren is now running for state and national office within the organization. “If I win, I can have an even larger platform to inspire others to teach.”
Without question, becoming a teacher is a labor of love – one that requires long hours and an enduring commitment to serve your community. But for their hometown of Pine Bluff, Keiren and his Educators Rising classmates are up to the challenge.
“I saw what my teachers were able to do for me, and I know that a great teacher makes learning more fun and engaging,” he says. “To know that I can mold young minds? It feels like the best job in the world.”