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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Response: Strategies for Recruiting Teachers of Color

By Larry Ferlazzo — September 16, 2015 14 min read
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(This is the first post in a three-part series)

This week’s question (and the first question of the school year) is:

How are school districts, universities, alternative teacher preparation programs, and individual leaders, teachers, and community groups responding to the call to increase the racial/ethnic diversity of our country’s teaching force?

This question, and the columns providing responses, comprise a special project being guest-hosted by Travis Bristol, PhD (Stanford Center For Opportunity Policy in Education) & Terrenda White, PhD (University of Colorado-Boulder).

Dr. White provided an introduction to this three-part series last week. Both she and Dr. Bristol, as well as Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and many other teachers, discussed some of the reasons of this Teachers of Color ‘Disappearance Crisis’ and its impact in a series appearing here this past January.

You can also listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Dr. Bristol on my BAM! Radio Show about this topic and see a list of, and links to, previous shows.

As Dr. White wrote last week:

Part one of this three-part series will feature examples from school districts that have implemented innovative strategies to recruit and retain teachers of color. Part two will feature the work of universities, schools of education, and teacher preparation programs. And part three will spotlight the work of alternative teacher preparation programs and charter schools, as well as community-based efforts on the part of parents. For each part, we hope that readers will share their thoughts and knowledge about innovative efforts to improve teacher diversity in the nation.

Response: Richard Buery, New York City Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives

As Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives in New York City, Richard Buery leads priority interagency efforts, including Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature initiative to offer high-quality pre-kindergarten and the development of community schools, and chairs the NYC Children’s Cabinet:

While Black, Latino and Asian male students make up 43% of our entire public school demographic, Black, Latino and Asian male teachers only make up 8.3% of the entire teacher workforce. Increasing the diversity of our teaching force is a significant recruitment priority for the City of New York and one of the initiatives we’ve designed to provide every young man of color with a role model who can mentor them along their path to higher education.

Through the Department of Education and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Young Men’s Initiative, the City is setting out to recruit an additional 1,000 Black, Latino and Asian men by 2018 to enroll in teacher certification programs. The undertaking will provide young people of color with role models reflective of who they are and where they come from, aiming to address the disparities faced by communities of color and working families. Research shows that students benefit from being taught by teachers with similar life experiences, creating a positive learning environment and leaving a profound impact on students’ grades and self-worth.

This new approach will offer cohort, professional and leadership workshops and programming beginning in spring 2016 to keep aspiring teachers engaged and interested, as well as to build support systems early. Starting in high school, the City aims to build interest in the teaching profession and create a support system for male students of color to begin the path to become teachers. The Department of Education has already established a strong partnership with the City University of New York to recruit graduates from teacher preparation programs, with 35% of this past year’s NYC Teaching Fellows being people of color. But outreach will also target CUNY juniors and seniors on an educational track and community college students that could begin an educational track in senior college, as well as students pursuing degrees in other professional fields.

Response: Margarita Bianco, Founder & Executive Director of Pathways2Teaching; Professor, University of Colorado, Denver

Dr. Margarita Bianco is a professor in the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver. She is also the Founder and Executive Director of Pathways2Teaching:

Like many other teacher preparation programs around the country, faculty at the University of Colorado Denver are involved in various recruitment and retention efforts to increase our diverse teacher candidate pool. One of our efforts has centered on the development of a pre-collegiate Pathways2Teaching program. The program is a collaborative effort between the University of Colorado Denver and several local, urban school districts. Since its inception in 2010, the Pathways2Teaching program has enrolled nearly 300 high school juniors and seniors from 5 high schools in the Denver metro area.

Additionally, in collaboration with faculty from Eastern Oregon University, the Pathways2Teaching program has been replicated there across 3 rural school districts serving predominantly Latino/a and Native American communities. Our potential future teachers look vastly different from the current teacher demographics in Colorado, which is mostly female and 90% White. Nearly 60 % of our current and former students are Latino/a, 35% African American and 42 % male.

The Pathways2Teaching program is designed to encourage high school students of color to explore the teaching profession as a viable career choice by viewing the work of teachers as an act of social justice. In other words, the teaching profession is presented as an opportunity for engaging with, giving back to, and disrupting educational inequities in and for their communities. The curriculum has an explicit focus on preparing students for college through rigorous coursework and experiences that foster students’ abilities to analyze, synthesize, and critically evaluate a range of complex issues that exist in poor communities- the very challenges experienced by many of our students. Students become empowered with “emancipatory knowledge” as they conduct their own research, analyze their data, and offer their perspectives on how to influence positive change. Students are constantly reminded that it is precisely because of their experiences and deep understandings of their communities that they are well positioned to become the teachers most needed in our classrooms.

Teacher diversity must be viewed and accepted as central to any discussion on the quality of education for all students. Addressing the current demographic divide between teachers and students requires more than politically correct rhetoric; it requires deliberate action, clear policy, and strong commitment at the federal, state, and district levels - with legislators ready to champion this cause. For example, during the last legislative session in Colorado, State Representative Rhonda Fields, introduced House Bill 15-1349, Grow Your Own Teachers: A Colorado Initiative. The Pathways2Teaching program was named as a model program in the Bill because of our aim to diversity the teacher workforce. Although the Bill did not pass during the last session, Representative Fields has committed to working tirelessly on future legislation with the same goals in mind. It is this kind of strong commitment that is needed at the policy level for meaningful change to occur. Supporting community based “grow your own” diverse teacher programs holds promise for creating tomorrow’s teachers.

Response: Rachelle Rogers-Ard, Manager, Teach Tomorrow in Oakland Unified School District

Dr. Rachelle Rogers-Ard is an educator and administrator with over 24 years of experience modeling Culturally Responsive Instruction and leadership development. Her work around recruiting, retaining and growing diverse educators is a main focus; Rachelle also demonstrates expertise in providing training around Project-Based/Linked Learning curricula aligned to common core standards:

Teach Tomorrow in Oakland (TTO) is a federally -funded initiative housed with the Oakland Unified School District designed to recruit and retain local, permanent teachers. We never asked “where are all the teachers of color” because we knew that teachers are made and not simply recruited. In other words, we don’t wait for colleges to graduate teachers; we work in partnership with community organizations, undergraduate unions, churches, and other groups that are already working with people of color towards developing a pipeline of community candidates.

Understanding that barriers to teaching for people of color is the hardest obstacle to face, we take great pains to remove as many of those as possible: providing reimbursements for teacher test fees, credential fees, fingerprinting fees, etc., and providing tutoring for teacher tests (e.g. CBEST and CSET) at no charge. We do not require that all teachers attend one specific credential program, but we strongly recommend that teacher candidates attend partner universities as a cohort for stronger support. Once teachers are placed in the classroom, we also provide materials and supplies, help to decorate teachers’ classrooms, and offer monthly professional development sessions led by TTO Teacher-Leaders using a critical race theoretical lens.

Now, after doing this work for six years and placing more than 150 local teachers who reflect the diversity of Oakland’s students, we know that it is not enough to simply recruit teachers of color; we must create systems that help those teachers combat the cultural isolation that is caused when they desegregate school sites. Often teachers of color are the “one” or the “only” on campus, and find that they are called upon to “handle” children of color when white teachers cannot. These teachers are often asked to serve on numerous committees to meet the diversity quotient, but are rarely regarded as curriculum specialists; instead, they are known for the way in which they “manage” their classrooms. To battle this phenomenon, we create support affinity groups so teachers do not experience these challenges alone. For example, we created a “Men in the Classroom” series, led by a male educator, so men could discuss challenges associated with working in a female-dominated field.

Effective teachers are constantly grappling with the notion of what comes after them; placing teachers at sites where there are other teachers of color with a social justice framework can produce school-wide reform. To that end, TTO works with principals and hiring managers to place TTO teachers at sites where other TTO teachers have been effective. One school in East Oakland has 7 TTO teachers; they have turned around the culture of the school by supporting each other and new teachers, sharing curriculum and creating stronger ties with parents. However, the greatest success is that TTO teachers know that students are in good hands when they move to another classroom.

Currently, TTO has a 78% retention rate, and more than half of our teachers are on track to complete their five-year commitment to teaching in Oakland. There has been attrition due to the types of causes inherent with teaching in the urban environment, but for those who remain, Teach Tomorrow in Oakland provides a sense of family and belonging that allows them to remain in the classroom.

If we are to stem the tide of the educational genocide that plagues our country, we must begin with schools. It is imperative for all children - not just children of color - to value and see instructors of all races as holders of knowledge so the next generation can break down the racial barriers on which our country was founded. Developing pipelines for local folks of color to become teachers is one answer.

Response: Christopher Rogers, School District of Philadelphia

Philadelphia Black Male Educator Meetup is a support group for Black male teachers in Philadelphia public schools at the Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Our members include Brendon Jobs, Sam Reed, Brandon Miller, Shamir Reese, Raymond Roy-Pace, Ismael Jimenez, Yaasiyn Muhammad, Chris Rogers and all who attend our roundtable sessions. The group can also be found on Facebook:

In the Summer of 2014, I embarked on a journey with 11 Black male educators to launch the Philadelphia Black Male Educator Meet-up hosted at The Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. We range from teachers who are within our first couple years of teaching as well as being inclusive of more veteran teachers. We welcome educators of all subjects. Within our ranks currently, we have educators from elementary, middle, and high school subjects (English Language Arts, Af. Am History, etc.) including special education teachers. We are sector-agnostic, embracing educators coming from traditional public, public charter, and independent schools. We take a holistic approach to our practice, understanding that legacies of structural racism, active community asset stripping, and “broken windows” policing of Black and brown communities contributes to a toxic environment that pervades the communities and schools of Philadelphia. Taking these realities into account sets forth our beautiful struggle within and beyond the classroom to transform these conditions with the students and families we serve.

We attempted to create a space for collaborative practitioner inquiry that served as a support/accountability forum as well as a platform to engage in more scholarly community-facing work. We are excited about the space we inhabit as Black male educators who rarely get to converse with other Black male educators about our practice. From one of our support forums around the Ferguson Uprising, we wrote a collective statement to voice our everyday struggles. At another meeting, we discussed the necessity of being trauma-informed in our approach, always considering what happened before reacting to what we may see as wrong. Upcoming, we are working on a publication to highlight Black male educators and their motivations for continuing to teach. This was birthed out of a podcast project we published in PennGSE’s Urban Education Journal to highlight our own responses to why we continue to teach. We are accepting submissions through October. Please read more here.

In terms of recruiting diverse educators to the classroom, we have found ourselves taking a different approach than we have found within our workplaces. We believe it to be unethical to engage in recruiting of “diverse” educators without the institutional acknowledgement of the full gamut of administrative and structural adjustments that we all observe must take place. For the most part, the approach of bringing Black male educators has been one of evading the necessity of cultural competency training and curriculum overhaul for ALL educators for the sake of visible diversity in the faculty. Through our circle, we create room for the tough conversations that we must engage in order to be able to serve our students as well as ourselves navigate through an educational system that we know to be unfinished and inadequate. We see this peer-to-peer intergenerational mentoring as both healing and growing, allowing us the space and courage to recognize our failures so that we might plan for better.

We believe the most important task that we may offer up to our students and fellow educators is to take up the advice of Dr. Mindy T. Fullilove to “see what’s in front of us by listening carefully.” We don’t believe there are shortcuts to transformational change in education that doesn’t reflect how we walk and dream in the world beyond the classroom walls. We must all take steps to unlearn oppressive, dehumanizing beliefs and behaviors to relearn and rebuild cultural communities of respect, humility, and reciprocity. By convening more spaces to engage, reflect, and question what we may find, we want to change the narrative from one that emphasizes solely professional development as educators to one of the sincere role we must play as cultural workers within community.

Thanks to Dr. Bristol and Dr. White for “guest-hosting this series, and to Richard Buery, Dr. Margarita Bianco, Dr. Rachelle Rogers-Ard and Christopher Rogers for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. Contributions from readers will be included in Part Three.

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