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It is that time of year. Letters of intent are being secured and contracts for the upcoming school year are being handed out. Administrators are considering personnel decisions and teachers are pondering whether or not they should return for the next school year.
In the spirit of celebrating Black History Month, I want us to reflect on the reality that black teacher retention matters. As a black woman who has attended schools with predominantly black students AND has worked at such schools since beginning my education career, I am more than qualified to discuss this topic.
I remember my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Brooks. Mrs. Brooks DID NOT PLAY. She was a pillar in our school and community. Well respected. She lovingly disciplined us while simultaneously providing outstanding instruction. I remember the various events throughout the school year involving food, music, displaying our class projects, and our parents. I also reflect on my fifth-grade teacher Mr. Byrd. This man taught math in such a relevant way to us! There were constant competitions in class. Mr. Byrd’s class is the reason I still love math and have always preferred teaching math to my students. He made me feel like I was a mathematician.
When I graduated with my first teaching, I was fortunate enough to work in an environment with the motto “we-all-we-got!” My principal would constantly remind us of this truth because he was well aware of the realities our students faced. Our school was a focus school for many years and had the highest transient population of students. The teachers, though not perfect by any means, were committed to providing the best educational experiences to every student in the building.
The Current Reality
Fast forward to today, I am truly concerned with the lack of focus on retaining teachers, but especially BLACK teachers. Studies have shown time and time again the impact of black teachers on black students. We cannot miss this. Black students need black teachers. They need teachers who look like them, have the same experiences as them, who love them for who they are and not just their potential. When I visit some schools, I often see one or two black students in predominantly white classrooms. I have unfortunately witnessed these teachers constantly pointing out the negative behaviors blacks students display. It is no secret that there is a disproportionate amount of black children in special education programs.
The US Department of Education released a report about the current state of racial diversity in the educator workplace. In 2016, about 16% of students in US schools were black, but 82% of teachers were white.
There are many ripple effects of not having an adequate amount of black teachers in our schools. There is, unfortunately, but realistically, a racist history behind the lack of black teacher attrition. So much work needs to be done.
What steps do you think can be taken to increase the retention of black teachers? As you reflect on your own schooling, what impact did a black teacher have on your experience?