Learning about teaching methods is a crucial part of the Oregon Teacher Pathways class — but so is understanding that nothing about teaching is “one-size-fits-all.”
In class at Hermiston, high school students are getting familiar with seven different learning styles, and each small group has to educate their classmates about the different ways people absorb information.
“Physical learners like to do things with their hands,” said senior Hannah Thompson. “They aren’t as good at listening.”
“They fidget a lot,” said senior Isaac Medelez. “They’re good at hand-eye coordination.”
The other styles of learning are social, solitary, oral, visual, logical and verbal.
The Oregon Teacher Pathway program is in its second year in Hermiston. It started as a way to create diversity in the field of teaching, and encourage young students to think about a career in education.
“Predominantly, teachers in Oregon and across the nation are white females,” said Ericka Keefauver, a Hermiston High instructional coach and the new Oregon Teacher Pathways instructor. “That’s a statistically accurate stereotype.”
She said across the state, one-third of Oregon students speak a language other than English. Sonia Cooley, a careers teacher at Pendleton High School, said she recently polled the 12 students in her Oregon Teacher Pathways classroom and found that none had minority teachers throughout their education.
“We talk about white privilege,” she said. “That’s what we have in Pendleton.”
According to Eastern Oregon University, students of color are more likely to achieve higher academic success when exposed to teachers of color, or teachers trained in culturally responsive practices.
It’s important to find teachers that are linguistically and culturally diverse, Keefauver said. But cultural understanding is not just about race — it can include familiarity with a rural population as well.
“We want to get teachers to come to a rural setting, and be from a background that understands those needs,” she said.
Some teachers take it a step further and come back to a community that’s especially familiar — the one they grew up in.
“I myself am an HHS grad,” Keefauver said. “We want students to go to EOU, and they’re more likely to come back and work in our district or our own community.”
Keefauver is not alone. At the beginning of this school year, at least 40 teachers in the Hermiston School District are Hermiston High School graduates.
Keefauver said the number of people that return can be attributed to a positive experience growing up in the district.
“They have an investment in the community,” she said. “In rural areas where family tends to stay put, those (things) draw them back.”
Juan Rodriguez is a Hermiston High School graduate. He taught the Oregon Teacher Pathways class last year, its first in the Hermiston School District. The Hermiston High School science teacher said when he graduated with his master’s degree in 2009, Hermiston was one of the few districts hiring. But it was more than convenience that drew him back.
“The teachers here taught me, so I knew I was going to go into a great teaching environment,” he said.
Rodriguez said as the coordinator of the pathways program, he talked with his students about his own experiences but didn’t explicitly advise them to come back to their community.
“I think for a lot of high schoolers, they want to explore the world or just get out of Eastern Oregon,” he said. “But I think as they get older, they may realize what a great community it is and what a great school district it is.”
Lynette Minthorn took a circuitous path back to Pendleton.
A member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Minthorn took her love of basketball from grade school all the way through college, starting at Lane Community College before finishing her playing career at EOU.
Minthorn graduated with a degree in physical activity and health and became a fitness trainer for the Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center. But when she got the opportunity to get her teaching license for free through Portland State University’s American Indian Teaching Program, she took the plunge.
“Why pass on a free education?” she said.
Minthorn is now in her first year as a physical education teacher at Sherwood Heights Elementary, where she teaches first through fifth graders the basics of physical activity.
As a tribal member, Minthorn thinks children appreciate when one of their teachers has the same skin color or talks in a similar way. Minthorn is one of two American Indian teachers the Pendleton School District has on staff.
Some of her nieces and nephews now attend Sherwood Heights, and she feels that becoming a teacher is a way to give back to the community. “It’s good to have people know who your face, who know who you are,” she said.
In October, the pathways students will spend one class period per week in two fifth-grade West Park Elementary School classrooms, assisting the teacher.
“They will work with small groups, and support the teacher in instruction,” Keefauver said. “They will know the lesson ahead of time, and can support in a small-group setting, whatever the teacher is trying to do.”
Rodriguez said the opportunity to get comfortable in a classroom setting before college is beneficial to students.
“I think of students in high school really excited about becoming a teacher, but who don’t get into a classroom setting until junior or senior year of college,” he said. “OTP exposes students to a classroom, and gives them the first opportunity to cement their desire to be a teacher, or to say ‘This isn’t really for me.’”
He added that forming a connection with a class, or a specific school, can give students the incentive to come back later.
“It makes those kids feel welcome,” he said. “(If) I did my practicum at West Park, I want to go back and teach there. It’s part of retaining people.”
The students also learn about teaching in different grade levels, and what strategies work well for various age groups. That can include teaching strategies, or even experimenting with different classroom configurations.
Students can earn a college credit for completing the program, which can help them get a jump on their degrees. Keefauver said that because of the program’s partnership with Eastern Oregon University, students who receive a C or better in the class can also get reduced tuition at EOU.
Another important aspect of the program is mentoring younger students, Keefauver said.
“When EOU students become upperclassmen, they can go back and become mentors at their old high schools,” she said.
Entering its fourth year, Pendleton’s Oregon Teacher Pathway program is close to bearing fruit.
But according to Cooley, Pendleton’s pathway instructor, the program hasn’t yet made a dent in cultivating American Indian teachers, one of the reasons Pendleton adopted the program in a district that’s 12 percent Native American.
Although pathway programs in Hermiston, Umatilla, and Milton-Freewater have made inroads with Latino students, Cooley said the students that have gone through PHS’ program are mostly white.
Despite the relative homogeneity of Pendleton’s pathway program, there’s some reason for optimism.
Matt Yoshioka, the Pendleton School District director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said the district’s candidate pool for teacher and educational assistants has been more diverse during recent hiring cycles.
Yoshioka said the district hired three assistants with bilingual skills this year, quadrupling the number assistants with that asset.