Here’s why black teachers are so important to education and to our children
‘Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflection From Black Teachers’ reinforces necessity to get more of them in classrooms
“Teachers of color bring benefits to classrooms beyond content knowledge and pedagogy.”
This is what a recent study from The Education Trust, a national nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes high academic achievement, claims. And it has data to back it up.
Teachers of color represent only 18 percent of the teaching population in the United States, and black teachers are 7 percent of the teaching population, according to Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflection From Black Teachers, a report published late last year that gives voice to black teachers.
And yet today more than ever, the report rings true throughout America’s schools. In the midst of the personal accounts from teachers, the report cites the reasons that continuing to recruit teachers of color, as well as identifying and creating more ways to retain them, is important. It also explains the impact that black teachers have on students and the relevance of establishing relationships with students and parents.
According to its website, The Education Trust promotes high academic achievement for all students at all levels, prekindergarten through college. Its goal is to “close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign far too many young people — especially those from low-income families or who are Black, Latino, or American Indian — to lives on the margins of the American mainstream.”
These excerpts below have heightened relevance and meaning during National Teacher Appreciation Week:
“The difference I would like to make is a difference that my fifth-grade teacher, an African American woman, made [for] me,” says an elementary teacher from Oakland, California, who is also a Black woman.
She credits that teacher with instilling in her a love of math, but also with fostering the self-confidence that would buoy her when other teachers doubted her ability. Now, she tries to give all her students — and especially her Black students — that same assurance.
“I make sure I get to know each and every one of my kids, and let them know that they can do it.”
This teacher experienced what research has shown: As role models, parental figures and advocates, they can build relationships with students of color that help those students feel connected to their schools. And they are more likely to be able to enhance cultural understanding among white colleagues, teachers and students. Acting as “warm demanders,” they more frequently hold high expectations for all students and use connections with students to establish structured classroom discipline. Furthermore, they are more likely to teach in high-need schools that predominantly serve students of color and low-income students. Black teachers especially are more likely to stay in schools serving black students.
State and district leaders recognize the need to diversify the teacher workforce and are working to recruit more black and Hispanic teachers. And their efforts may be paying off: Research shows that the percentage of teachers of color in the workforce grew at twice the rate of white teachers from 1987 to 2012.
But while leaders have been busy trying to pour teachers of color into the profession, they have not plugged the drain through which too many exit. Indeed, teachers of color are exiting the profession at higher rates than other teachers.
Simply recruiting more teachers of color only gets them in the door; we must pay equal attention to creating the conditions to keep them. And while it is critical to diversify the teaching force, just having a black or Hispanic teacher in the classroom isn’t enough. They must be strong teachers, so diversity and excellence go hand in hand. Holding onto teachers of color, though, requires education leaders to understand their unique experiences and perspectives. And who better to learn from than the teachers themselves.
In March 2015, our research team set out to hear from teachers color, hosting a series of focus groups with black and Latino teachers around the country. We used data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS, 2012) to target states and districts with high numbers of teachers of color and solicited participants through schools, districts, and teacher organizations.
Our goal: to better understand their unique experiences, why they teach, their perspectives on the state of education, what they believe they bring to the classroom and the field, and challenges they may experience in the workplace because of their race. In this brief, we present findings from our discussions with black teachers. In forthcoming work, we will share what we heard from Latino teachers, as well.