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3 & 1/2 ways private & wealthier public schools can attract black teachers

For over a decade, I have worked with private, public, and charter schools across this nation on issues relating to diversity, culturally relevant instruction, and student leadership. The work I do takes different forms in different schools. In some schools, I am brought in to work with faculty on ways they can reach their more disenfranchised students. In other schools, I speak to students about their role in creating communities where everyone feels celebrated and not tolerated. Some schools seek a combination of work with both students and faculty. In all of the private schools and wealthier public schools I have visited, one glaring question always rears its head: where are the black teachers?

To be clear, I am specifically speaking about black classroom teachers who do not coach athletics, and I am not referring to building services such as security or custodial staff. Of course, there is no shade being thrown at either profession because all positions are of value when it comes to making a school function. I am speaking specifically to the dearth of black teachers in more privileged schools today. Below are three and ½ steps schools can take to start recruiting more black teachers.

  1. Go to where black teachers are.

While it is of course true that black people live in every state in the United States, it is obvious that more of us are concentrated in urban areas. Despite this fact, I still encounter schools in cities like Washington, DC and New York where I am told that it is hard to find black teachers. I do not believe this to be true. More effort needs to be placed in going to where black teachers are and recruiting them early. If you play a role in recruitment in your school, you should start partnering with schools of education and inquire about their black enrollment. If you are fortunate enough to have an Historically Black College & University (HBCU) in your vicinity, definitely reach out and conduct recruitment fairs on campus and invite potential teachers to visit your school. Well-intentioned recruitment efforts can go a long way for helping a teacher decide where to work.

In addition to partnering with these institutions, there are also events such as the Teacher of Color Recruitment Fair. Your leadership team should also attend conferences such as the People of Color Conference (POCC), The Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC) conference, and several others that can be found with a simple google search. At these conferences, you get to see many presentations by actual teachers and not only professional speakers/trainers such as myself. These organizations also have regional events and provide great opportunities for networking. As important as it is to attend events like these for the content, it is equally important to attend as a potential recruiter.

  1. Be bold in your diversity statements and practices surrounding diversity & inclusion

I am not saying that every black teacher cares about issues relating to diversity and inclusion. Some of course just want to come in and teach like they see their white counterparts do on a daily basis. I do know, however, that many black teachers doindeed care about where a school stands on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I know this because I have actually met black teachers in many of the schools I have visited over the last 15 years and this has been brought up nearly 100% of the time.

Like many black parents, many black teachers are also looking at school websites for statements on diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are looking to see what progress has been made because they do not want to come to your school and instantly be “The diversity guy” or “The black guy.” These are the teachers who have all the troubled black students sent to him, usually is asked to speak to black parents (or at least be in the room for representation purposes), and are often made to feel like they have to “speak for the race” when racial issues arrive. This is an extremely stressful position for black teachers to be in, yet it happens all the time. Startingwith a diversity statement is a great way to start attracting the attention of black teachers, yet I am still amazed by the numbers of school that I visit who still do not have one.

  1. Use social media to recruit teachers

You cannot be at every recruitment fair every day. Many successful black teachers have a very active presence online, particularly through LinkedIn and Twitter, but on all major social media sites. They are not only posting thoughts about their school day, but they are also writing and sharing powerful content that will show you where their values are and demonstrate that they could be a good fit for your school. You can use the hashtag method to find educators that are writing and talking about the areas you are interested in such as #diversityandinclusion, #blackteachers, #blackeducators, etc. You never know. Some of these teachers can be right in your vicinity!

3.5 Treat your current black students as future teachers.

By this statement, I do not mean that you should look at your third-grade black students and start to actively recruit them. That would be…weird. What I amsaying is that many schools treat their black students so poorly that they never want to become teachers when they get older. I have generally met two types of black teachers. There is one group that teaches for the love of teaching. There is another group, however, that teaches for the love of teaching but alsosees their job as an actual mission to show black students that a teaching career is possible. They also want non-black students to see black people in positions of leadership and authority in the education space and go beyond the sports and music stereotypes they may have of black people.

In 2017, NPR reported on a study stating that having just one black teacherin a school can help keep black students stay in school. They report:

Having just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduced low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39%…And by high school, African-American students, both boys and girls, who had one African-American teacher had much stronger expectations of going to college. Keep in mind, this effect was observed seven to ten years after the experience of having just one black teacher.

Representation does indeed matter. It is also important to reiterate that seeing black people in positions of authority is also important for non-black students because it can help non-black students grow into adults for whom working with or for black people will not seem foreign to them. It can also counter the stereotypes that some members of non-black groups possess about black people, namely that black people are lazy and not intelligent.

At the end of the day, there is an old saying that you can’t just talk about it. You have to BE about it. You cannot expect black teachers to appear at your school through osmosis. You have to actively pursue them. I have met so many black teachers who do not see private and wealthier schools as an option because there is a perception that these schools are only interested in checking off boxes for diversity. If you honestly believe that your school strongly values diversity and inclusion, these steps will help you in your efforts to do just that in terms of increasing the presence of black teachers in your school. Let’s GO!

 

 

5 Ways To Reach Black & Latino Marginalized Students In Private & Public Schools

I was recently asked by The Atlantic Magazine to share my thoughts on what it means to black at elite public high schools given not only my work as a diversity consultant, but also as a graduate of an elite public high school—Boston Latin School. Contributing to this article allowed me to reflect on how schools  can reach the  most marginalized students in both our public and private schools because in many cases, the only difference in these institutions as it relates students feeling marginalized is the tuition. Therefore I would like to share 5 steps that educators and school leaders can adapt in order to be more inclusive to all students.

1. Create Free Spaces
Principals and teachers need to realize that it’s not about creating “safe spaces” but rather “free spaces” for their students. Too often, black and Latino students feel the burden of representing their entire race and have to deal with the notions that they are either at the school because of financial aid or to play sports. If principals and teachers become culturally competent then they, for example, will not have to point to the Black or Latino student when issues of race come up because the teacher will be able to provide an informed opinion on her own. So rather than saying “Jamal, what do you think about what Johnny said about the #blacklivesmatter movement?” a culturally competent teacher creating a free space would say: “There are many different perspectives on the #blacklivesmatter movement even within the black community and so we should not assume every black person agrees with your statement Johnny.” After the teacher says that, the teacher should NOT turn to Jamal for his response. Let black and Latino students be as free to participate or not participate in topics as every white student. I teach at American University and I have had several gay students who are extremely vocal on many issues but silent when we get to topics affecting the gay community. I never call on them in class because I know they are used to being the “representative” in class and it’s not fair to them. Some do speak and some do not but it is their choice.

2. Diversify Your Curriculum
It is important to diversify staff (see point 4) but it is equally important to diversify curriculum. Take Black History Month for example. It is so sad that many schools have not learned to go beyond basic black history: Slavery, fast forward (maybe) to Harriet Tubman, then on to Dr. King and now President Obama (for those schools whose leadership is not biased against him*). Some schools of course may put up posters during their particular heritage month. This again makes students of color feel like they are being tolerated with boxes to check off regarding the curriculum rather than celebrated. The history of black and Latino culture has to be woven into the curriculum. It is indeed OK to talk about Fredrick Douglass in March, Dr. King in November, and Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor in April. Beyond the curriculum, school staff need to look at their library books and the pictures they have on the walls. I went and spoke at a very elite, majority white private school in Connecticut called Pomfret and was pleasantly surprised to see posters of leaders like JFK next to posters of Malcolm X and Che Guevara in a classroom. The discussions that must go on in those classes are likely to be more holistic. At Sidwell Friends in Washington DC where I have also done work, there are elective classes such as Black Liberation and issues facing the African continent. The Black Liberation class is taught by 2 women, one black and one white and there are several non-black students in the class. Even if black and Latino students decide not to get heavily engaged in classes like this, it can be comforting for them to see that these options do exist and having a white teacher shows that it’s not just a “Black thing.”

3. Invest in authentic professional development.
School leaders have to actively offer professional development opportunities and at the very least, diversify the literature their teachers read. If authors like Gloria Ladson Billings, Linda Darling Hammond, Alfred Tatum, Geneva Gay, Glenn Singleton, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and others are not on their bookshelves (and assigned), then schools are only offering lip service on diversity & inclusion.

4. Staff has to represent the student body.
I do not care what the politics are of teachers of color. What matters is that students of all races see teachers and leaders of color in their schools. A black or Latino student needs to be able to see that science teacher who looks like them and say “If she can do it, I can do it.” The white student also needs to see that so he can see it as normal for blacks and Latinos to have higher education. Part of the reason why many schools I go to have no diversity in staff or leadership is because the leaders never saw that diversity when they were students so they resort to only have Black and Latino staff who are building services or athletic coaches because that is all they knew.

5. Have a solid and publicized diversity mission statement
When I walk into some schools, I am often impressed by those school that have their statement on diversity front and center for all to see. Doing this shows that the school is committed to being held accountable for its actions on diversity. This instantly makes the school more welcoming to the black and Latino student as well as the parents. I have spoken to so many parents of color who feel completely disengaged from their school and do not feel empowered to voice their thoughts on issues so they resolve to stay silent as long as their children get that coveted diploma. Schools thus lose out by not having these parents engaged. Some (I repeat some) black and Latino students may have parents or guardians working multiple jobs who are not able to be as engaged as the parents with nannies or a stay at home parent so the schools need to do more outreach to keep those parents engaged.

Adopting these five steps may not be easy but taking these steps are indeed worth it if school leaders and teachers want to truly create a climate where everyone believes that they belong. A parent once told me that her school could always get another black “kid from the ‘hood” to fill its quota so she never felt her school really cared about them. Is this what we want? I do not think so. If schools really believe that they are creating students with a global perspective, it is necessary that the student body and staff represent the globe not just in body, but in curriculum and commitment to ensuring that every student has the ability to reach the highest potential possible. That can only happen not from tolerating diversity, but leveraging it.