- The lack of representation for teachers of color in the classroom is due to both recruitment and retention issues, said Tequilla Brownie, CEO of TNTP, a nonprofit alternative teacher preparation program. Brownie spoke on a virtual panel on Tuesday held by FutureEd and TNTP discussing the strategies to increase educator diversity.
- Teaching should be approached as a workforce issue over solely treating the job as “a calling,” Brownie said. “Looking at this as a true job from a workforce perspective, that’s how you unlock other dollars through apprenticeship, through Department of Labor. Instead of just K-12 on its own, by itself, trying to tackle this problem.”
- The return on investment for educators also needs to change, said panelist Mayme Hostetter, president of Relay Graduate School of Education. Strategies like raising salaries, forgiving student loans for teachers, or reducing teacher taxes are crucial in addressing this and diversifying the teacher workforce, Hostetter added.
State teacher certification exams create another barrier to recruiting teachers of color, too, panelists agreed.
Some of the challenges prospective educators face are tied to some of these state requirements, said panelist Tami Jenkins, program director for Tech Teach Across Texas. Fees should be waived for some of those taking the state certification exams, Jenkins said, because “they become a detriment to students.” In Texas, students can take these tests up to five times, but for students already struggling to make ends meet, she said that becomes a financial issue.
Additionally, Hostetter said current certification tests do not accurately predict students’ experiences and outcomes in a teacher’s classroom.
“When you have a test that’s expensive, and that’s disproportionately a barrier to teachers of color that predicts very little to nothing about what matters to kids, why would you be using that as the major gateway into a profession? Particularly when you have a shortage,” Hostetter said.
An alternative, Hostetter suggested, is to rely on one-year teacher residency programs for aspiring educators. “Give people a year of support, apprenticeship and preparation, and then decide, along with them, whether this is the right long-term professional pathway for them.”
When it comes to the retention of teachers of color, many schools are not prepared to support them, said panelist Sharif El-Mekki, CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development.
A 2021 report produced by Teach Plus in partnership with the Center for Black Educator Development found that fostering an inclusive school culture through recruiting and retaining diverse staff alongside school leaders who encourage inclusion and culturally responsive curriculum will help create culturally affirming schools. The report cited 100 Black educators.
The bottom line, Hostetter said, is that school leaders need to demonstrate commitment to instilling a school culture that includes diversity, equity and inclusion.
“All leaders need to make it clear that our school, this school, this place is not going to be the scene of the crime,” Hostetter said. “This is going to be an equitable and inclusive space for our kids and for our teachers.”
Brownie also cited growing concerns around seniority-based layoff policies, which are more likely to impact teachers of color over White educators. This is because teachers of color are typically in the early stages of their careers, a March report by TNTP found.
As districts see declining enrollment and fiscal cliffs tied to federal COVID-19 relief dollars, they are facing potential teacher layoffs.
“We’re not saying experience doesn’t matter,” Brownie said. Instead, seniority should be one of many factors districts use to determine layoffs, she said.