Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s recent ruling on education is creating an opportunity to improve our approach to K-12 education in Connecticut. As we set goals for our students, and how to best reach those goals, we must also take time to consider our teachers.

Teachers are and will continue to be a big factor in our work to improve public education. They matter more to student achievement than any other factor in a student’s schooling. It is my hope that lawmakers think about how we can increase the number of local teachers who are passionate about learning as well as excited and prepared to support the needs of our students.

My experience in traditional, public, parochial as well as a magnet programs in Connecticut has given me a unique understanding of the difference a teacher can make in any school setting. Growing up as a Puerto Rican of color whose teachers and peers were not always from my community was challenging. Now a single mother of two, I’ve decided it is time to pursue my long-term dream of becoming a teacher and take part in the solution to bring more quality, diverse teacher voices to our classrooms.

When thinking through how to foster great teachers, lawmakers should consider how we prepare teachers for the classroom, focusing on programs that include a lot of practice. I am currently working as a clerk at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, where I would love to teach. Our students motivate my own studies. I see students practicing routines and new pieces of music, improving with each attempt. Like students, teachers become great through practice.

That’s the kind of opportunity I wanted in preparing to become a teacher, which is what attracted me to the Relay Graduate School of Education residency pathway, a new teacher preparation program working toward getting approval to offer teacher certification in Connecticut.

As an aspiring teacher with Relay, I can practice working with students as an apprentice for a full year. In this setting, my advisor teacher gives me feedback and I can improve – just like all our students. This alternate pathway into teaching will allow me to continue my full-time work in my school, while also receiving the training, real-time feedback, and coaching I need to be a successful teacher. When I step foot in a classroom as a certified teacher, I will have already overcome the many challenges a real, live classroom offers.

When we consider investing in our future teachers, we also need to talk meaningfully about diversity – not just in terms of a person’s ethnicity – but their understanding of a community and the challenges those within it face.

Our state leaders have already identified this as an opportunity for improvement throughout the state – 40 percent of students are of color in Connecticut while only 8 percent of school staff are, according to a Connecticut State Department of Education report. A Panorama Education survey found that giving students access to teachers with whom they can connect will only strengthen students’ opportunities to learn.

I strongly urge lawmakers to support diverse, local pipelines for teachers that are reasonable options for working professionals. Relay is one way, and an institution that we should welcome to Connecticut. There are more. Let’s work together to bring the many options for becoming an impactful teacher to Connecticut. We must ensure all new teachers, regardless of the path they take to their credential, have the practical support they need to improve. My future as a teacher, along with hundreds of other potential teachers, our kids, and our communities depends on it.

Amanda Marcano is an aspiring teacher, mother of two and a lifelong New Haven-area resident.

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