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Education Leaders and Researchers Discuss Strategies to Better Recruit and Retain Educators of Color

Education leaders and researchers discussed the vast disparities in the number of educators of color and potential ways to help recruit them during a panel of the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) Equity Assistance Center-South’s (EAC-South) Educational Equity Indicators Professional Learning Series.Sharif El-MekkiSharif El-Mekki

This second session of the “How to Improve Educator Recruitment and Retention: Stories from the South” series took virtually on Tuesday.

The U.S. is facing a severe shortage of teachers, and the need is particularly present for certain populations of color, said Dr. Donna Elam, senior adviser for EAC-S.

"The need for good teachers is even more dire for certain populations,” said Elam. “More than 50% of students in U.S. public schools are children of color, yet only about 20% of teachers are people of color. Most Black students in the U.S. attend 13 years of public school without having a single Black teacher."

Raymond Pierce, President and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation has said that the U.S. needs 280,000 more Black teachers in public schools to be proportional to the number of Black students.

Sharif El-Mekki, founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development (CBED), said that while less than 2% of public-school teachers are Black men, teaching was the top career choice for Black men who attended HBCUs and have a college degree.

“There are Black men who are interested,” El-Mekki said. “So how do we get more of them into college, particularly HBCUs, where they express an interest in becoming teachers?"

A Black teacher pipeline – one that is effective, sustainable, easy enough to understand, and protected – is needed, he said. 

“We asked colleagues, most are white women, when did they initially become interested in teaching? The average response was third grade was when they recalled someone tapping them on the shoulder and inviting them into the profession. Some adult, usually an educator, engaging them about why they would be fantastic at leading a classroom,” El-Mekki said. “So, we have third grade for one group of people, and for us, it was after we had graduated [from college].”

Having Black teachers in the classroom, or educators of color in general, has demonstrated benefits for all students, said Carrie Murthy from EAC-S. Having diversity among their educators, provides students with diverse role models; counters racism and negative stereotypes; promotes intercultural understanding; and prepares students to live in an increasingly diverse and complex world, she said.

"Studies have found that when upper-elementary students are randomly assigned to a teacher of color, they are better at completing tasks and are more engaged, they score higher on end-of-year tests for math and English language arts, and they attend school more frequently,” Murthy said. “These effects hold true for both students of color and white students. And the effects on test scores and chronic absenteeism persist up to six years later."

Dr. Terry LamarDr. Terry LamarHearing from such teachers is central to addressing their needs and ultimately strengthening recruitment and retention, said Darcy Pietryka from EAC-S. For example, studies have found that educators of color often are subject to an “invisible tax” of extra responsibilities due to their race, such as disciplining students of color, teaching the school community about racism, and serving as a liaison to families of color, she said.

Compensation and payment are also key concerns, Pietryka said, adding that there were other ways to provide compensation if needed, including bonuses, alternative salary structures, public recognition, gift cards, and offering flexible ways to structure school days and work weeks.

"There's no denying that money is important,” Pietryka said. “There are educators across the country who cannot afford to even live in the communities in which they teach. More than that, many educator salaries make it difficult to support themselves and their families."

And to better recruit those on the outside looking in, those interested in entering the educator sector, showing representation is important, said Dr. Terry Lamar, chief administrative officer for Hoover City Schools in Alabama. He encouraged schools to, as part of diverse recruiting efforts, create public relations campaigns that showcase diversity in action.

"One of the ways you want to show that celebration of diversity is you want to have those diverse images, videos, prints of your employees working together,” Lamar said. “You want to have African American leaders and teachers working with white leaders and teachers as well.

“Because if you're an African American minority and you're going into a district where you will be minority, you want to know: 'Will I be accepted? Do I see them showing that they celebrate me? Do they celebrate differences? Do they celebrate diversity?'"





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