'Interactive Session' Becomes Lesson On Recruiting Minority Instructors
New York--The program was called "Introduction to the Independent School Teaching Experience for Candidates of Color," and it was billed as a chance for beginning minority teachers to find out from a panel of experts what a career in private schools would be like.
But the hoped for "interactive session" at the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Schools here became something rather different. It was, participants said, a hard lesson in the difficulties of minority recruiting.
Only two "candidates of color" showed up.
"Two candidates is not acceptable, especially for a meeting in New York City," said Randolph L. Carter Jr., director of minority affairs for the nais. "We're not reaching people."
The fierce competition for minority teachers, which has led many public-school districts to offer special bonuses and other incentives, may be even more intense in the private sector, many here noted. This is so, they said, because private schools often have the disadvantages of lower salaries and an "elitist" image.
"Everyone knows the trends: Fewer people are going into education and that includes fewer minorities," said Manasa Hekymara, executive director of the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs, a group formed by 23 schools in Southern California to recruit minority students and teachers.
"It's tough to find any teacher right now," she said.
But all the indicators at last month's annual meeting here--and activities slated in several other4cities this month--seem to point to an even tougher search for minority teachers.
The nais annual conference has become something of an employment marketplace, with prospective teachers seeking out schools and schools seeking candidates.
This year, some 600 job-seekers--out of 7,000 convention participants overall--signed up for interviews.
Only nine were minorities.
The two candidates who attended the panel discussion had themselves graduated from independent schools.
"That told us about our outreach," Mr. Carter said. "The only people who know about private schools are private-school graduates."
For years, he and others said, independent schools have relied heavily on word-of-mouth endorsements and returning alumni to staff their teaching positions. Now, some schools are beginning to recruit teachers as intensively as they recruit students, they said. But the effort has yet to reach into minority communities.
"Independent schools are not known in minority communities," Ms. Hekymara said. "Word has to get out that schools are interested in minority teachers."
Efforts to promote independent schools to prospective minority teachers also run up against history, Mr. Carter said.
"Independent schools have a negative image as 'segregation academies' of the South," he said. "But it's a time-warped image. I think most schools really do want diversity."
According to n.a.i.s. statistics, recent strides in minority enrollment have not been matched by increases in minority faculty members.
Little Growth in Numbers
For the past four years, minority enrollment at independent schools has increased by about 0.5 percent a year, and last year minorities made up 11.2 percent of enrollment at member schools.
By contrast, 3.5 percent of independent-school teachers are minorities, a figure that has been increasing by less than 0.2 percent annually.
The gap worries many educators. Said Ms. Hekymara: "The importance of minority teachers as role models can't be underestimated. It's important for both minority students and white kids to see minority teachers in responsible positions."
The recruiting of students and teachers, she said, "has to go hand-in-hand."
"If independent schools are truly to become diverse institutions, they really need to think in terms of the school as a whole," she said.
Ms. Hekymara's California group has recruited 81 minority students for its schools since the alliance was formed three years ago. But though its goals also include the recruitment of faculty members, she said, a lack of funds and manpower has limited that effort.
This week, groups in two other parts of the country will hold seminars on recruiting minority faculty. The Maryland Association for Independent Schools will have a day-long meeting on March 9 at the Glenelg Country School, and Channels for Educational Choices, a Boston association, will conduct a semiel10lnar March 8 at the Middlesex School in Concord, Mass.
Earlier this year, a job fair sponsored by private schools in Atlanta drew about 100 minority teacher candidates, according to Mr. Carter.
The seminars and job fairs help, he said, but often private schools are too limited in their search and come to job fairs unprepared to make commitments.
"Public schools are going to the South, are recruiting heavily, and they come to job fairs prepared to make offers," he said.
Representatives from independent schools often cannot make job offers at such events, but must invite candidates to the schools for interviews or for a trial teaching period, he explained.
Such a selection process is too lengthy, Mr. Carter argued, because top minority teacher candidates often receive several job offers. "For some schools, by the time they make an offer, it's too late."
Looking to "nontraditional"4sources for minority teachers has often become a necessity, both Mr. Carter and Ms. Hekymara said.
That includes efforts to attract retirees and people in mid-career, they said, and recruiting from the pool of school alumni.
"We need whole new ways of looking at how we educate people about teaching," Mr. Carter said.
The minority-affairs director said he wants to appeal to minorities who have gone into other careers, "but have a seed of social consciousness that isn't satisfied."
"I think a lot of them would sacrifice a little income" to take teaching jobs, he said.
The n.a.i.s. needs to increase its efforts to reach potential minority teachers, hold more job fairs, and promote teacher-intern programs, Mr. Carter said.
"We need to do just flat-out recruitment," he said. "I want to begin to create a national strategy."