With white students now the minority in public schools nationwide, it’s never been more crucial for the teaching profession to reflect the same diversity. But as it stands today, 80 percent of teachers nationwide are white. Black and Latino teachers both leave the profession at higher rates than white teachers, which the Learning Policy Institute found is connected to (among other factors) poor working conditions and lower salaries.
So what needs to change? That’s one of the questions that Education Trust, an education advocacy group, and Teach Plus, a teacher leadership nonprofit, explored in their Sept. 25 report titled “If You Listen We Will Stay.” Written by Davis Dixon, Ashley Griffin and Mark Teoh, the report focuses on finding solutions to what the Education Trust calls a “teacher turnover problem,” in hopes of improving the retention rates of teachers of color.
The research narrows down the necessary solutions, which include creating culturally affirming school environments, supporting, empowering and investing in teachers, as well as adopting a district priority related to retaining teachers of color. In the study, Education Trust president and CEO John B. King Jr. underscores the importance of fighting for diversity in the teaching world. “When students of color see themselves reflected in their instructors’ identities and in the curriculum, studies show that the positive impact on student achievement is far-reaching,” says King. “Not only for students of color, but for all students.”
Dixon, one of the lead authors, explains to Yahoo Lifestyle that this research is far more than just skin deep. “At a foundational level, what are the values and beliefs of black teachers and how can the school be in line with that?” he asks. “[For example,] In our case studies, principals talked about how, for black teachers, it wasn’t just important for students to learn the facts and figures. The goal for these schools was to develop students who would go out and serve their community.”
As a follow-up to Yahoo’s Sept. 28 piece on the challenges black educators face in the classroom, Yahoo Lifestyle reached out to the same black educators to see if they could offer solutions from their own points of view. Unsurprisingly, their sentiments plainly echoed those of the report’s case studies.
Orlando, a former New York City English teacher who has relocated to Atlanta, believes that teachers wield both the power and responsibility to connect to their students. “I would just encourage all teachers to take the time to really get to know your students, understand what their interests are, get to know them outside of the classroom and make an effort to build relationships with them regardless of cultural differences. ... I believe if a teacher is working with a group of students that may be of a different culture, then it is up to the teacher to go out of their way and do the research and work to learn about that student,” the 37-year-old tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I believe students can and should learn from teachers/cultures outside of their own, but it will take extra work on the part of the teacher to get through to that student and penetrate that cultural barrier.”
A couple of the other teachers have put special emphasis on changes that need to start with the administration.
Bianca, a former middle-school business technology teacher in Florida, says teachers should be required to take implicit bias training. “You don’t know what you don’t know. We need to have more conversations about how race plays in our education system,” she says. “You will have some educators that will say ... I don’t see race. My response to that is … you should!”
The 29-year-old says having teachers in the classroom who understand and empathize with students is crucial. “There was a teacher that yelled at a student because they weren’t prepared and didn’t have their backpack. The teacher scolded the student publicly in front of their peers. The child was on the verge of tears and walked out of the classroom,” she says. “The student went next door to come into my room. I had to stop teaching my class because the student is in my room with tears running down their face. The student’s parents were evicted the night before. The landlord had all of their belongings on the street and they lost everything. The teacher called the office and wrote a referral for the child leaving class but omitted the details of why the student walked out. So you see, this situation could have been prevented by asking the right questions and having empathy. Would this student have gotten punished for leaving their assigned classroom? We will never know the real answer.”
Angel, a current principal in New York City, agrees. “In order to retain teachers, you need leadership that reflects the experiences of students and teachers of color, or at the very least has put in the internal and external work to be in community with us,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Equity and diversity is key because you need policies and structures that will support POC teachers, students and families.”
“One suggestion is to ensure that [cultural competency] is an active part of professional development for teachers and leaders on a consistent basis,” adds Roger, a 28-year-old math teacher in New York. “One thing that happens from time to time is that we talk about race and equity in a pocket and then we never return back to it. In actuality, it needs to be a living, breathing piece of who we are and what we do on a daily basis.”
But many of them are simply looking to be regarded as a valuable part of the team.
“Yes, acknowledge us. We have so much to bring to this work, yet there are so many forces against us preventing us to live authentically and not be judged, to teach in our unique way and not be brainwashed, and powers that prevent us from being promoted out of fear,” says Sean, a 31-year-old former teacher now working as a principal in New Jersey. “Acknowledge us.”
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