How Districts Can Better Support Teachers of Color

Writing for The 74, Bekah McNeel explores what districts can do to better support teachers of color. Excerpts from the piece appear below:

Right now, around 80 percent of the teaching workforce is white, compared with 48 percent of public school students in the U.S. Research has shown the various ways this racial imbalance hurts children of color, as more reports are pointing to bias in discipline, referral for advanced courses and gifted programs, and lowered expectations. 

Same-race teachers positively affect outcomes for students of color, and students and educators offer anecdotal evidence that having a non-white teacher carries social and emotional benefits for white students as well.

Teachers of color are more likely than their white peers to be placed in schools where students live in concentrated poverty, schools with fewer resources to support teachers professionally or personally. They choose these schools often because the students there are also black and Latino. Some make the choice because they want to reach students growing up in neighborhoods similar to the ones they did.

Once they are on campus, however, teachers of color say they are often expected to be more role model than professional. With so few black and brown adults in particular on campus, teachers say they feel the pressure to bridge the entire cultural disconnect between staff and students. Because their extra work is not seen as professional, but rather informal and relational, they are less likely to be chosen for leadership positions, more likely to assume emotionally draining disciplinary roles and time-consuming student mentorship duties without additional compensation. They take these roles on because it is in the best interest of the kids, but the additional cost in time and energy is real.

Having more people of color as leaders and colleagues allows teachers of color to embrace their own culture — to promote social justice, to adopt hairstyles and clothing that don’t conform to the culture of white institutions and workplaces. This makes it more likely they will stay and thrive. If they are isolated, they have to suppress their own culture or risk making their white colleagues uncomfortable, which further reduces access to mentorship and collaboration with colleagues.

If they share the work with more teachers of color — a lot more — they will be less fatigued and have more time for professional advancement. Teachers say they need mentors who can not only help them develop their craft but also help them keep their bearings in an overwhelmingly white system. They need older, more experienced teachers of color, thoughtfully paired with race in mind, not just academic subject or specialty.

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