We need a more diversified teaching workforce
Recently, I taught a lesson about The Historic Westside using a traveling trunk, provided by the Nevada State Museum, that was filled with artifacts and lesson plans on the history of this important part of Las Vegas. Students learned about the Harrison House, a former boarding house that accepted African American customers during a time when African Americans were not allowed to stay in hotels on the Las Vegas Strip because of segregation laws.
As we analyzed each artifact, one student declared, “This was not right, racism is not right!” Another said, “We’ve come a long way, but there is still police brutality happening….” A third student, who is white, said, “It’s just… I mean, I've heard since I was young - not all my family members - that Black people can’t help it. They can’t help being bad.”
I thought of the courage it took to say that, realizing this is why I am in the classroom with students who do not all look like me. The moment further validated for me why we must diversify our nation’s teaching force.
In the United States, “Black students account for 15 percent of the public school students, while only 7 percent of teachers are Black”. The Nevada Report Card on Teacher Equity and Diversity by The Education Trust notes, “Black students account for 11 percent of the student population, while Black teachers only account for 6.7 percent of the teaching force”. To achieve greater representation across the country, schools would collectively have to hire 280,000 more Black teachers.
Research underscores the impact that Black teachers have on Black students: “when Black students have two Black elementary teachers they are 32 percent more likely to attend college”. Research further indicates that all students can benefit from having Black teachers, as a teacher’s experiences of racism can be connected to lessons taught in the classroom. Building relationships with all students, Black teachers like me are able to break cycles of stereotypes and racism.
As an African American teacher, I am concerned about the recruitment and retention of Black teachers. Here are suggestions to address these challenges:
- Offer competitive grants and programs aimed to increase the Black teacher pipeline. In February 2022, the U.S. Department of Education awarded $35 million in competitive grants to increase the number of new teachers and promote diversity within the teaching force. Grants could be used to specifically offset the expenses of new teachers or to increase the teacher pipeline. For example, in 2021 Colorado developed a teacher grant program to increase the number of Black teachers by offering a $20,000 salary bonus and a fully-funded master’s degree.
- Create mentor programs for Black teachers. If we are to succeed in hiring and retaining Black teachers, we must address some of the unique challenges they navigate in the teaching profession. Black teachers need culturally responsive and affirming mentors to support them with acquiring effective tools and strategies for the classroom and school community. Enlisting Black teachers as leaders on school campuses will give newly hired Black teachers a mentor with whom they can connect and voice concerns as they navigate the profession. The Southern Nevada Black Education Initiative is working to close the K-12 educational gap through expanding the Black teacher pipeline. Their goal is to increase the number of Black teachers in Clark County School District from 8 percent to 25 percent by 2030.
- Create early pathways into the profession. Many elementary students speak of aspirations of becoming teachers when they grow up. School systems should develop pathways that begin prior to college and prioritize schools that have a high percentage of Black and Brown students. For example, the Center for Black Educator Development in Philadelphia offers a paid apprenticeship and mentorship to high school students interested in pursuing teaching as a career. Districts in Nevada could create similar pathway programs in which high school students are hired as apprentices and are mentored by teachers. The training could occur on an elementary campus during summer school.
With intentionality, we can ensure that there are more Black teachers in our classroom, positively affecting all students — and especially students of color.
Sheila Weathers is a 4th grade educator in the Clark County School District. She is also a 2021-2022 Teach Plus Nevada Senior Policy Fellow.