Teacher Corps Marks ‘End of Dark Ages’

Nov 15th, 2000 | By | Category: 12-2: Land is Life, Tribal College News
JUNEAU AND GRANDSON PHILLIP

The American Indian Teacher Corps will assure more Indian teachers to serve tomorrow’s students. Photo of Gloria Juneau and her grandson, Phillip by Lee Marmon, American Indian College Fund

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded three-year grants to 26 colleges and universities to create the American Indian Teacher Corps. Janine Pease-Pretty on Top, Ed.D., vice president of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, said the teacher corps is a wish come true. “American Indian children will flourish educationally with well-trained American Indian teachers. I can envision our children as the ‘cream of the crop’ instead of where they are today ‘at the bottom of the bucket,’” said Pease-Pretty on Top, who is also president of Little Big Horn College, which received one of the grants.

When President Bill Clinton announced his education agenda in January 1999, he emphasized the importance of providing Indian teachers for Indian students across the country. In July 1998, Education Secretary William Riley became personally convinced of the importance of training American Indian teachers when he visited Salish Kootenai College with Carrie Billy, executive director of the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges & Universities. Of the 450 teachers on the Flathead Reservation, only six were American Indians. The teacher corps is designed to recruit 1,000 new Native American teachers to serve areas with high concentrations of American Indian and Alaska Native students. The grantees include 14 tribal colleges and 22 mainstream universities in partnerships with tribal communities. Some of the universities serve areas where there are no tribal colleges, such as Oklahoma. No grants were awarded in Alaska.

Pease-Pretty on Top said that for the last two decades, the federal government has given little support for personnel development in teacher education. “Most of the emphasis has been on math, science, and technology,” she said. Just two years ago, there were fewer than fifteen teacher trainees in all of Montana’s schools of education, she said. “The Teacher Corps Initiative tips the balance, providing critical incentives to bright and intelligent American Indian people for whom children and school is their choice.” Congress provided $10 million for the teacher corps for its first year. Many of the grantees focused upon professionalizing Indian teacher aides, who have demonstrated their commitment to teaching Indian children.

“The national competition was not easy,” Pease-Pretty on Top said. “Nevertheless, these tribal colleges succeeded in the competition among a field of the finest state and private colleges and universities in the country. Tribal colleges have a unique capacity to tailor the curricula to the tribal peoples they serve, providing tribal studies at the heart of the education majors and including American Indian professors and student teaching experiences with American Indian children,” she said. “Not since the 1970s has there been this kind of opportunity for teacher development here in Indian Country. In retrospect, we will regard the 1980s and 1990s as the dark ages for teachers’ education.”

The grantees are: Arizona State University, Diné College, Northern Arizona University, Tohono O’odham Community College, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, University of Kansas Center for Research, Bay Mills Community College, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, Blackfeet Community College, Fort Belknap College, Fort Peck Community College, Little Big Horn College, Salish Kootenai College, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, University of New Mexico-Gallup, American Indian Research & Development, American Indian Resource Center Inc., Northeastern State University, Tenskwatawa Inc., Oglala Lakota College, Si Tanka College, Sinte Gleska University, Heritage College, Northwest Indian College, Western Washington University, and  College of Menominee Nation.

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