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NYC Men Initiative Diversifies Teacher Workforce

A teacher recruitment and retention program under New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) is actively working to diversify the teacher workforce to reflect the city’s diverse student population.

Launched in January 2015 and backed by a $16-million pledge from Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC Men Teach is in its third and final year of a strategic plan to recruit, support and retain 1,000 more Black, Hispanic and Asian male teachers in the city’s classrooms.

Dr. Travis BristolDr. Travis Bristol

Currently, 8.3 percent of the NYC teacher workforce is men of color, a stark contrast to the majority of students that come from various cultural backgrounds.

“One place where we lose students in the [teacher] pipeline is actually in the K-12 setting,” said Dr. Travis Bristol, primary researcher for the program and Peter Paul Assistant Professor at Boston University. “It’s no surprise that Black and Brown children, and boys in particular, fail at a higher rate than their peers. Those students exit the pipeline before they even have a chance to become teachers.”

Efforts to boost teacher diversity have increased as research shows that learning increases for students of all backgrounds when they have a teacher of color.

Men participating in NYC Men Teach receive teacher training and professional development through collaborations with the NYC Department of Education, City University of New York, the Center for Economic Opportunity and Teach for America. The program works with the men of color to overcome some of the common barriers and challenges they face in the teacher pipeline.

These challenges, Bristol said, include coming from “historically marginalized and disenfranchised schools” that do not equip the men with the needed skills for higher education, biases in hiring practices and school placement of teachers of color and the fact that a disproportionate number of candidates of color fail to pass teacher state-certification exams.

Bristol explained that schools created such exams after Brown v. Board of Education when Black teachers sought to find jobs in White schools. The exams created a barrier for teachers of color in spite of evidence indicating that the exams did not fully predict a teacher’s success in the classroom.

“Of course, we want high-quality teachers,” Bristol said, but “we find that, even if a teacher has passed or not passed, it makes no difference in their ability to increase students’ achievement. So, then, the question is if the certification exam does not predict student achievement, then why do we have it?”

NYC Men Teach also pairs program participants with a mentor to ensure that new educators have a supportive network when they enter the classroom. “These mentors,” Bristol said, “receive high-quality [teacher training and development] that provides them with the tools and strategies to support men of color.”

Bristol said a “powerful” component of the program is the city’s efforts to work with school principals. Principals often steer male teachers of color into disciplinarian roles in the school, which can be a burden to them or lead to higher exit rates than those of White teachers, Bristol said.

A “key lever to ensure retention is to build the capacity of the principals to understand what they need to do in their schools to create the conditions to make teachers stay,” he said.

Bristol is working with four other NYC Men Teach researchers – Dr. Marcelle Mentor, Shannon Waite, Dr. Ting Yang and Jose Alfredo Menjivar – to further examine how the city is recruiting and supporting men of color who intend to become teachers.

From his scholarship and personal experience in the public education system, Bristol said the next steps for ensuring that more men of color and teachers of color enter and stay in the teacher workforce on a national level is for teacher-preparation programs to be attentive and responsive to the full range of racial, ethnic and gender diversity of teachers entering their programs.

“I would love to see some differentiation in teacher preparation,” he said.

Beyond that, offering alternative certification programs, providing financial support or scholarships for educators, rethinking the “White canon” of teacher curriculum and offering training to challenge implicit biases within teacher-preparation program-review committees can enhance support and retention of male teachers of color, Bristol said.

“Teacher-preparation programs, who themselves are predominantly White, need to develop a more expansive view of who can be prepared to teach.”

Bristol offered an additional critique of teacher training.

“The texts that we’re reading about what it means to teach children and children of color come from a very White deficit lens,” he said. “Those spaces are not encouraging spaces for people of color because those spaces don’t reflect them and don’t give them a vision about how they could be good teachers.”

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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