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Washtenaw United: EMU program aims to better recruit and retain a next generation of teachers

Dr. Iman Grewal
Dr. Iman Grewal


Dr. Iman Grewal is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Eastern Michigan University where she teaches undergraduate, graduate, and PhD courses in human development, human well-being, qualitative research, and children and families in poverty. In 2015 she completed the AS-L Faculty Fellowship and has since then taught her undergraduate courses as AS-L courses. In 2022 she completed the Advanced AS-L Fellowship. Dr. Grewal is an experienced community-engaged educator and scholar having designed and led several projects with local organizations such as Neutral Zone, 826michigan, SEMIS, and United Way of Washtenaw. In 2016, Dr. Grewal was awarded the prestigious John W. Porter Endowed Chair. As a practitioner-researcher Dr. Grewal has developed and co-ordinates several innovative, data- driven programs such as the NEXT Scholars and the Hope Partners programs.

NEXT Scholars is a place-based program designed to increase the recruitment, retention, and success of students from historically marginalized communities into teaching. Hope Partners program radically redesigns the student-teaching experience for students from historically marginalized communities to be a long-term, mentoring-based experience. Currently she is leading the Speak Up research team in collaboration with several Ypsilanti Community School District teachers to identify teacher-led recommendations for addressing the teacher shortage crisis. Dr. Grewal is the recipient of several awards including the Dale Rice Award for Academic Innovation in AS-L and Community Engagement as well as the MAC Outstanding Faculty Award for Student Success in 2022. She has presented and published locally, nationally, and internationally.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and I'd like to welcome you to Washtenaw United. I'm David Fair. And each week we explore issues of equity and opportunity in Washtenaw County. And this week, the focus is on education. There is, without question, a teacher shortage in the country, and that was true before the pandemic. There's also a significant shortage of minority educators. Since the pandemic, the situation has only grown worse. There is a locally-based effort to touch on all of those challenges. Our guest is at the heart of it. Dr. Iman Grewal is an assistant professor in Eastern Michigan University's Department of Teacher Education. She serves as director of EMU's NEXT Scholars Program and is helping drive the Hope Partners program. Dr. Grewal, thank you so much for making time for us today.

Dr. Iman Grewal: Thank you, David, for having me here.

David Fair: I want to start with a little personal question. What made you so passionate about education and finding new educators to inspire?

Dr. Iman Grewal: I think my personal experience of being an immigrant and going from being part of a majority culture to coming here and realizing all of the experiences that are involved in sort of self-worth and self-capability and recognition as an immigrant. And when I started to teach, I started to notice that while Eastern's larger population is not that diverse, that level of diversity was not being represented in our education courses. And so, the more I paid attention, the more curious I became and the more worried and upset I became and more determined I became to address that issue.

David Fair: You bring to the table an international education. You had an advanced degree before you came to Eastern Michigan University and then continued your education here. How did that first-hand immigrant experience and being a person of color on campus inform the manner in which you now approach this NEXT scholars program?

Dr. Iman Grewal: Thank you for asking that really important question, David, because so much of our work is often driven by our own personal experiences. And I think, for me, until I moved and became an immigrant, I did not realize what it meant for my worth to be recognized based on my skin color and how I sounded. And I had to work twice as hard and, on a daily basis often, have to prove that I was worthy of being in the professional spaces that I had chosen and earned to be in.

David Fair: So then, how did you take that personal experience and start the genesis of creating the NEXT Scholars program and doing so through that lens of equity and opportunity?

Dr. Iman Grewal: I think my own struggles of having to work towards creating a sense of belonging and this whole idea of deserving to be where I was, I wanted to put that to use. I wanted to say, if I worked this hard, how am I going? What would I have wanted someone else to have given me to make my path a little bit easier? And that's my devotion. My devotion is to provide that level of support and care and love to the students who really deserve the success of becoming educators. And they're so needed in the field.

David Fair: WEMU's Washtenaw United continues with Dr. Iman Grewal, and we're talking about EMU's NEXT Scholars and Hope Partners program. How is student teaching changing for those who are in the NEXT Scholars program?

Dr. Iman Grewal: So, one of the things that I've really been attentive to in developing the NEXT Scholars program and the Hope Partners program is to give space for students from historically marginalized communities to speak up, to say what are their hopes? What are their needs? And what are the obstacles that they are facing? Now, traditionally in the teacher preparation program, student teaching is the culminating experience. So, students finish up all of their coursework, and in the last semester, they are paired with a cooperating teacher whom they often meet only a few weeks before they student teach. And then they're put into a very high stakes end of the program experience where they're evaluated, recorded, and their graduation is based on how successful that experiences. For students from historically marginalized communities who struggled with their own education, going on the other side of teaching and taking up ownership for becoming educators is often wracked with a lot of emotions, confidence. Do I deserve to be here? And add to that financial stress. Why leave student teaching to the end of the career? Why not flip it around and do what we are really focused on doing is be relational. Why not pair up students from historically marginalized communities as early as freshman year with educators in the field who can support the identities that students most need support with and allow them four, five, six years in this relationship to really become educators that are community engaged, that are transformative, so that they have skills and experiences to be able to change so much of what education is changing in terms of advocacy for teachers being treated as professionals, teacher salaries, teacher voice, and agency.

David Fair: How is that going to change the dynamic a generation down the line?

Dr. Iman Grewal: So, our hope really is to deeply address the fact that, oftentimes, teacher preparation and teaching become a very individualistic process. One of the things that I have learned, and I have talked to many people who have learned this is the value of being in community through COVID, how important it was for us to feel connected, loved, and cared for by people close to us. It is something that is deeply lacking in the field of education. So, when we focus on relationship building and community building, we are quite confident that will impact these teachers that are being prepared to be community engaged and transformative will stay in the field because they have each other to support. And as they stay dedicated in the field, they will then inspire students who look like them to come and become educators because this community will also care for the teachers in times of crisis and need, which happens all the time to us right? And so, if you feel like you are cared for, you can care for your students. If you feel cared for and held up in support, then you are able to sustain and remain in the field.

David Fair: Our conversation with Dr. Iman Grewal continues on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. As you were just touching on, so much of what we all go through as children and developing young adults is predicated exactly on how we feel.

Dr. Iman Grewal: Mm hmm.

David Fair: And so, much of the hardship faced by teachers is reflected in feeling. So, we can talk. We can process. Procedure is put into place. We have curriculum and standardized tests that we all want to achieve within. But those don't always taken to consider the feelings you're talking about. So, as you incorporate a more advanced level of understanding, what do you advise on creating the relationship that allows for emotional growth in addition to academic growth?

Dr. Iman Grewal: That is such a critical part, and I think COVID, especially when you talk to students, the sense of isolation, the sense of loneliness is so deep. You know, the World Health Organization is saying depression and loneliness are one of the greatest health risks globally now. We have to normalize talking about feelings. We've really focused on numbing feelings and bypassing it. And we're beginning to realize that if we want to be recognized and function as human beings, we are beings of feeling. And we need to learn about feelings. We need to normalize conversations. We need to be able to have safe spaces where only our feelings are actually recognized and asked to be shared. It's very interesting in my classes when we've had conversations of so how have COVID impacted you? It really flips the entire experience for the students because they have a chance to talk, and they realize how many similarities they've all are facing in terms of isolation. So, I think as soon as we say talking around love and about feelings and about care becomes central, and then we talk about learning about subject and content as secondary to that. Michigan Department of Education is really transforming that by saying student first curriculum. We need to recognize the student. So, when we say student first, what are we saying? We're saying the students' heart and soul first.

David Fair: In order to put students first, don't we also have to put teachers first in order to take care of them and inspire that environment? And that means higher pay, better security, less interference in the creativity that first brought people into the classroom.

Dr. Iman Grewal: Oh, spot on, David. When I think about all of the students who are so dedicated to going into teaching, they go there because they care for making a difference in the lives of their students. And oftentimes, a teacher preparation and how we have conceptualized the field of teaching and the lack of value we place on education and educators leaves teachers solely responsible for caring for the students at the cost of caring for themselves. And that's not sustainable as we're seeing through COVID and this huge teacher pushout is not a shortage. It's a pushout. If we were to pay teachers the salaries that they deserve and provide them with the support that they much need, teachers would stay in the field. And so, one of the phrases that I'm really enjoying and I see real value in as teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions. We have to flip that narrative that we cannot have teachers sacrificing their well-being, their ability to pay their bills, not being able to take care of their families' health and devoting so much of their abilities and caring for their students. It's not sustainable, and it's not right for a country that is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. This is not how it should be.

David Fair: Well, for anyone who wants to learn more about the NEXT scholars program, all you have to do is hop to our website at WEMU dot org, and you'll find all the links and information that you need. Thank you so much for the time today, Dr. Grewal. I appreciate it.

Dr. Iman Grewal: Thank you, David, for giving me this opportunity.

David Fair: That is Dr. Iman Grewal, assistant professor in Eastern Michigan University's Department of Teacher Education. She serves as director of EMU's NEXT Scholars Program. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County. We bring it to you every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station. 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.



WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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