Esther Cepeda: The need to keep minority teachers
CHICAGO -- Few issues in education are more important than the retention of high-quality teachers. And that goes double for high-performing minority teachers. There are more of them among the teacher corps these days, but they are still hard to keep.
“Over the past two decades,” writes Glenda L. Partee in “Retaining Teachers of Color in Our Public Schools: A Critical Need for Action,” the latest in a series of reports by the Center for American Progress, “the growth in number of teachers of color has almost doubled, outpacing the growth of white teachers. However, successful efforts to recruit more teachers of color to schools in disadvantaged areas are largely negated by the revolving door of attrition: In general, teachers of color have higher turnover rates than do other teachers.”
The problems start with limited access to high-quality teacher preparation programs and can also include discrimination as people of color make their way into the teaching field. Then there is also a general dissatisfaction with the teaching profession because of low salaries and low occupational prestige.
Obviously, these roadblocks look familiar to teachers of all races who have abandoned their careers or have been driven nearly to tears by students and peers who wondered why they weren’t doing something “better.”
Still, it must be said that minority teachers often find themselves taking on some of the hardest teaching assignments in the country—by choice.
According to Partee, minority teachers tend to face bigger challenges than white teachers—comparatively lower salaries, greater concerns about school safety, larger class sizes, limited instructional resources and professional-learning opportunities, low student achievement and higher rates of discipline problems that come with taking positions in high poverty schools. But the biggest problem is anemic school administration support.
“Low levels of administrative support, lack of classroom autonomy, and lack of collective faculty decision-making influence … often trump financial and resource factors, including money for instructional materials and professional-development opportunities,” Partee notes.
These policy recommendations should put a smile on any teacher’s face: “To attract and keep teachers of color, these schools will need social, human, cultural and financial resources, as well as organizational structures that support and empower teachers through greater classroom authority and faculty influence.”
Furthermore, the author suggests that high-minority urban schools should implement more coherent human resource approaches and management systems to improve school operations.
This is Management 101. It’s also common sense that making all schools, regardless of the racial makeup of the student body, more welcoming, efficient and professional for minority teachers will go a long way toward retaining high-quality teachers. And it has been proved time and again that it’s the high-performing teachers who have the biggest impact on students of all backgrounds and abilities.
It’s not easy to talk about teacher diversity. The majority of teachers are white, and nothing feels worse to members of a profession already under the gun than the implication that their race limits their ability to be effective educators of an increasingly diverse student population.
But it is because race does not play a role in a teacher’s ability to be effective that we must make it a top priority to do everything possible to ensure that good teachers of all races and ethnicities have the opportunity to teach in all possible settings.
“The importance of real teacher diversity gets to the heart of schooling—we want students to learn math, reading and science but we also want them to be good citizens and participate in a world of work that requires they collaborate on teams,” Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told me. “We talk about teacher diversity in California, Texas and Arizona, but in Iowa, in North Dakota where the population is less diverse, those students also have to have teachers who look differently than they do, who come from different backgrounds and can be 21st-century role models of professionals who look differently than they do.”
Retaining more minority teachers is a win-win. You end up benefiting all teachers—and all students.
Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.