There is no debate concerning the significance of Black teachers. Black teachers are important for the outcomes of Black students; both inside and outside the classroom. In addition, Black teachers are not only preferred by Black students, but also by white students and other students of color.
Considering those truth, various efforts nationwide have begun the work of increasing the number of Black teachers in America’s classrooms. Some efforts are led by non-profit organizations like the Center for Black Educator Development. Other efforts are happening at the district level – educators are attempting to add more Black teachers.
However, I am not sure if they know how best to do that. For example, a gentleman reached out to me the via email to inquire about how his district can attract more Black teachers, specifically because his district had increased its Black student enrollment. An employee for his school district in Pocono, PA, he said that his district checked off all the boxes – that was a concern off the top, but I digress.
He said his district created an environment where Black children felt safe and nurtured, that their curricula are affirming of Black identities and that the Black teachers, as well as parents, have few complaints about how the district educates Black children and how it treats Black children, Black families, and Black educators.
Of course, this guy could just be blowing smoke up my you nowhere with the narrative of “we’re doing everything right.” What he’s telling me may not be the case. But let’s assume that it is the case; it’s how I moved the conversation forward with this gentleman. I asked, if all those things are true, why don’t you believe you can attract Black teachers? His response was because Black teachers seem to desire teaching Black students in Black communities.
On the face of it, he wasn’t necessarily wrong.
I can say from personal experience, when I became a teacher, I couldn’t think of anywhere I wanted to be more than in Camden, New Jersey. My roots as an individual are in Camden. My family is from the city, many of the friends that I grew up with are from the city… I desired to teach young people from the city.
What’s also true is that for Black folks, the Poconos are a nice place to vacation. Living there is something entirely different.
But what really stood out was that the gentlemen offered the same timeless refrain to explain the lack of Black applicants, that there aren’t enough Black teacher applicants to meet their demand, or at the very least not enough applying to his district. So, it was there that I chimed in.
I told him that like any profession, attracting candidates requires that an organization considers numerous factors, including salary, organizational culture, and the feel of the community – that especially matters if candidates will have to relocate. When it comes to Black people, those things matter but what also matters is how Black people (students, educators, and parents) are regarded.
Is our presence valued?
Are our opinions and/or suggestions valued, taken under consideration, or accepted and implemented?
The gentleman felt that I was blaming his district for the lack of interest in his district, reiterating that his district was doing the work and that the Black people within (teacher and parents specifically), could vouch for his district. I responded with the following:
“… [While] Black people do wish to work in Black communities, that’s not necessarily a guarantee that they won’t work in communities that aren’t Black. I don’t know your district, but if you’re making an effort to hire Black teachers, a real effort, then I would suggest that you go beyond your locale and ask other Black educators (or perspective Black educators) what would it take to make them consider coming to work in your district.
Also, keep in mind the “we can’t get Black applicants” narrative is often utilized by districts and educators who claim to want Black teachers but have no commitment to make it happen. Scratching your head, while Black people you know affirm what you believe, won’t cut it. Again, reach out to HBCUs and make your district a visible presence…
Also, visit Philadelphia schools and talk to Black teachers in Philly to find out why they would or would not come to a district like yours. Lastly, you must be honest with what your data says about your district and how you treat Black students. I am not saying that you’re lying to me or that you’re not being honest about your district, however it’s not about what you and the folks in your district say about your district. It’s about what Black people particularly outside of your district would say if they looked at your district and the data.”
His response was while his district already established a relationship with Cheney and Lincoln universities, pursuing more HBCUs was a must do. That, and that the Poconos isn’t the more desirable of living destinations, was about all this gentleman would concede. He went back to the diversity argument, as many white educators do.
But here is the thing about diversity… it’s about checking off boxes – just like this gentleman said his district had already done. Diversity is about recruitment, retention, and promotion. Don’t get me wrong, we need those things to happen to see more Black teachers in classrooms. But diversity isn’t about changing policies and procedures; that’s why diversity efforts fall short.
Diversity efforts are not enough, and Black educators can see through the crap.
Again, I don’t know this gentleman and I am not familiar with his district. But what I know to be true is that Black educators don’t want to meet a quota. Black educators desire to transform educational spaces to empower and transform the futures of Black children. You can add Black teachers, but it doesn’t mean that your district is a nurturing place for Black children or those Black teachers.
There are examples of school districts with high numbers of Black teachers (and Black students), yet neither of these constituencies are being nurtured.
So, if you want to add Black teachers to your school district, good. But why? Do you desire to see improved outcomes for Black students, good. But is it so that your portfolio looks better or because you want to see Black children come into the knowledge of their identity as well as building the skills to address systemic racism and oppression that they and their communities encounter?
If it’s not the latter, therein lies your problem.
Money, location, and organizational culture matters. But so does Black bodies, Black minds, and Black spirits. Respecting and valuing them will bring more Black teachers, not checking off boxes.