Jan. 25, 2022
As detailed in a previous blog post exploring challenges to recruiting and retaining Millennial teachers of color (or MTOCs), racially diverse teachers are too frequently commodified in schools. Black teachers, for instance, are often used to manage the behavior and academic performance of Black students, but rarely see their ideas incorporated into school improvement efforts. These issues—as well as concerns of low pay, poor quality of life at work and home, difficult teaching conditions, and the ability of education to promote equity—have deterred new generations of diverse people from becoming educators.
To attract and retain more racially diverse teachers, experts point to multiple strategies including increasing teacher pay, improving teachers’ quality of life and working conditions, rethinking teachers’ career progression, and transforming professional development to focus on dismantling racist structures in schools.
1. Improve quality of life for teachers
Recruiting and retaining MTOCs begins with providing resources that allow them to do their jobs well and have an improved quality of life, states Micia Mosely, founder and director of The Black Teacher Project. These include up-to-date technology, fair salary and compensation packages, and a flexible workplace that allows teachers to achieve work-life balance. As Mosely told me in an interview, “Innovative transformational schools are often built on the backs of the single and childless. And then you decide to start a family...where your time and energy can’t fully go into your students. The structures aren’t set up for most people—especially folks of color—to be able to do that from the classroom.”
Local districts and schools can immediately support teachers’ quality of life by managing work time more effectively. This includes implementing more focused and purposeful meetings and staff training. Schools and districts can also embed ongoing professional development into work hours, such as time each week for teachers to meet with coaches or plan curricula. Ensuring that teachers’ formal work day is structured as productively as possible allows them to complete the majority of their work tasks at school so they have time for their familial and personal priorities.
And at the very least, states can raise teacher pay to make the profession more attractive to people of color facing large amounts of student debt, and more commensurate with other high-impact professions.
2. Expand teacher career ladders
Teachers must be given opportunities to lead in decision-making roles and to advance in their careers both in and outside of the classroom. These experiences can help create a positive school culture that fosters teacher professional growth and retention.
As Mary E. Dilworth, a notable expert on teacher diversity and editor of the book Millennial Teachers of Color, told me in an interview, MTOCs do not typically stay in education long term, especially since the field lacks a well-organized career progression ladder. After teaching for a few years, she says, MTOCs tend to look for new tasks and roles that are not normally offered within the traditional classroom teaching role. As a result, they search for jobs in other fields, where, as educated people, they have access to many other career opportunities. Therefore, without a structured ladder of progression to more leadership roles outside of the classroom, schools risk losing educators altogether to other fields that allow them greater autonomy in designing their work to align with their interests and passions.
To address this challenge, school and district leaders could collaborate with MTOCS to intentionally plan for their long-term career pathway as an educator. Moreover, teachers could be given opportunities to reduce their teaching schedule after a few years to pursue leadership or coaching positions with higher pay or part-time field work opportunities, suggests Mosely. She argues that by offering these types of opportunities and supports, schools and districts could extend the ten years MTOCs may teach in the classroom to 15 or 20. In this way, letting MTOCs leave the classroom is a positive thing that could be the key to retaining them in the field of education overall.
3. Promote racial literacy through professional development
Many times, schools reproduce inequities that discourage MTOCs from staying in those environments.
Rita Kohli, assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside and co-director of the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice, investigates the narratives of racially and ethnically diverse, social justice-oriented teachers in her book, Teachers of Color: Resisting Racism and Reclaiming Education, to uncover the racism they encounter professionally and their efforts to transform education.
As Kohli told me, districts and schools tend only to hire diverse teachers based on research showing how well they can engage with diverse students and promote their academic success. However, leaders don’t always “want what comes with that...connecting with students through their own ways of knowing and values, and their kind of cultural understandings.” Teachers of color are then forced into difficult positions where they must battle racism for themselves and for their students, until they either voluntarily or involuntarily leave schools.
Schools and districts may not be able to change the racism that teachers of color confront throughout their lives, but they can avoid replicating those same conditions in the workplace, by intentionally creating cultures of understanding that fully respect teachers’ identities and support their work moving forward. To do so, schools and districts must commit to understanding racism as systemic, and strengthening racial literacy (e.g., how teachers attempt to process and disrupt racial injustice in schools).
To that end, Kohli argues that districts should be more creative in their professional development structures—the types of training they allow to be accessed and counted for continuation credits, the ways teachers of color are compensated for leading trainings, and the roles they play in those trainings.
She also pushes for schools to move past professional development that frames teachers as passive recipients of information, and to instead consider Critical Professional Development, which “allows teachers to reflect beyond just content and think about the social structures and social context in which they're working…we want them to be thinkers, we want them to be reflective...to ask questions that go beyond their classroom or their school.”
If schools and districts transform their professional development programs to support racial literacy, then teachers of color can radically transform education in positive ways. This is possible only if these institutions reject the color-blind approach many of them take, which upholds racism by tokenizing diverse teachers as symbols of schools’ progress toward equality, but fails to support them in their deeper work toward true educational equity. And states can assist here by offering resources to these institutions to support their work, including through continuing education credits for racial literacy-focused professional learning.
The collective pushout of teachers of color illustrates a real need to reflect on the way we structure, define, and market teaching careers to racially diverse teachers moving forward. Redefining the way we’ve imagined the teacher role and career pathway for decades, and allowing newer educators to build a yet unseen idea of education can feel uncomfortable, especially during a time of intense change brought on by the pandemic. But leaning into that discomfort is the only way to achieve lasting systemic change that consistently recruits, develops, and retains current and future generations of diverse teachers.
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