Getting - and Keeping! - Black Educators in the Classroom
When I was in college, I had no idea that I would become a teacher.
For so many Black educators, the call to teach comes from many directions: the common hope to shape and mold the next generation; a sense of responsibility to our communities and students; a hope to change education outcomes in our neighborhoods. There are so many reasons why Black educators and other educators of color work in the classroom to support kids. And yet, the teacher workforce still does not reflect the growing diversity of the nation.
People of color represent about 40 percent of the population and 50 percent of students. While the Latino and Asian-American teacher workforce is growing, the share of Native American and Black teachers in the workforce is actually in decline. From my experience, I can say that our education systems are not equipped to help people of color become educators, despite decades of research demonstrating that students of color - in fact, all students - have better outcomes over their lifetimes when they have teachers of color.
The traditional pathway to teaching is to earn an advanced degree from a university. However, unless a potential teacher is earning that degree from minority-serving institutions like Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), or Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), the experience will be overwhelmingly white and exclusive.
Alternative teacher training programs offer increased diversity, and in my experience, are where the majority of my peers earn their credentials. I recently read a 2018 report from The Learning Policy Institute that outlines a variety of potential solutions to this challenge of recruiting and retaining educators of color, including teacher prep programs. The report states that candidates who receive comprehensive preparation are two to three times more likely to stay in teaching than those who receive little training.
But the major question to be answered is: Do teachers of color feel prepared to teach in the classroom?
When I started teaching, I was totally unprepared for the first day of class and spent a considerable amount of time on the job and after school hours trying to figure out how to improve my craft. My teacher preparation program lacked strong supervision and mentoring. I do not believe that I received sufficient and relevant training and coursework related to the classroom. I have first-hand experience trying to navigate the classroom without the right tools. Add to that the increased racism and microaggressions that Black teachers in particular face, it’s not surprising that Black educators leave the classroom and never return.
The Learning Policy Institute report recommends that schools and districts invest in “Grow Your Own” programs. These programs are often created to implement teacher preparation curricula in high schools, introducing students to the educator career pathway and providing mentorship and culturally competent instruction.
My hope is that if school districts and partners are going to grow their own teachers, that they spend just as much effort evaluating how prepared educators of color feel when exiting their programs and make the adjustments where needed. This ensures that candidates feel seen, heard, and supported, and is crucial to establishing a strong pipeline of educators of color.
I now support educators through the Leaders of Color program, which works to improve education outcomes for Black and Latino children by identifying, training and elevating Black and Latino community leaders to create civic and political change. By working directly with Black and Latino people who want to improve our education systems using their personal experiences to inform solutions, we are fostering hope for a brighter future for educators, students, families, and communities.