There’s been a lot of talk over the years about the importance of our Black teacher pipeline, and how we need to do a better job of getting prospects into and through the “leaky recruitment pipeline”. In many instances the work seems insurmountable, there aren’t enough Black students entering schools of education in Pennsylvania and around the country. For those that do enter, many don’t see graduation day. When they do graduate, there are issues with certifications, job placement, and long-term retention. So what can we do as educators to help with an ever growing problem?
First we must address the conversations that we have with our current K-12 students about the importance of becoming an educator. In my K-12 schooling experience not a single teacher talked to me about becoming a teacher, and that’s a big part of the problem. As an educator have you spoken to your students about why you became a teacher? Have you crafted lesson plans that highlight the revolutionary contributions of teachers? Have any other teachers or leaders in your building led these sorts of lessons?
In my conversations with teachers, no matter the grade level, their answers to that series of questions were “no, no, and no.” I’ve always wondered why we meet with our students regularly, yet never have these meaningful conversations with them. Here at The Center for Black Educator Development, we are committed to rebuilding a national Black teacher pipeline. Through our Freedom Schools Literacy Academy we see an uptick in interest in education from our high school students that serve as Junior Servant Leaders, which is a huge step in the right direction. The program is expanding around the country with in-person sites in Philly, Camden, and Detroit (and over 16 states represented virtually), and interest continues to increase from school aged students that see teaching as a potential long-term option, but we don’t have enough touch points with students and administrators to do this work alone.
There are initiatives happening in other cities around the United States as well. The city of Boston invested in their Boston Public Schools Teacher Cadet Program, with the intention of creating a pipeline of high school students that will go on to college for Education and return to teach in Boston Public Schools. Their program is very intentional, and pairs aspiring educators with mentors in the district, providing them with professional development and a Dual Enrollment program with Urban College of Boston.
Boston’s hope is that through intentional investments in their students, they can ease the difficulty of recruiting and hiring Black, Brown, and Indigenous educators by developing their own students for full-time teaching opportunities. It’s a long term investment that will take years to pay dividends, but it’s a smart investment in human capital.
Elsewhere around the US, some states are leveraging creative “Grow Your Own” Educator (GYO) strategies to address teacher shortages in their state’s and to increase the level of diversity in their classrooms. For example, Minnesota recognized they had a huge discrepancy between their teachers of color and their students of color (1:102 ratio) and decided they would do something about it. Leaders in Minnesota decided to take a two pronged approach to address the issue, Paraprofessional pathways to teacher licensure, and GYO for secondary students.
Minnesota tapped into different grant opportunities to bring their vision to fruition, to provide scholarships for paraprofessionals, and to create introductory teaching courses for secondary students. Similar to Boston, the state of Minnesota is taking a long-term approach, which won’t change their teacher demographics overnight but will build a strong pool of conscious and effective diverse educators to hire in the future.
There are lots of pathways forward to addressing the striking diverse teacher shortage, whether it’s GYO programs, teacher mentoring, or paid teacher apprenticeship opportunities like Freedom Schools Literacy Academy. And you can have straightforward conversations with your students about your pathway into teaching. Highlight your journey into the classroom, whether alternative or traditional, and why you remain committed. We have a lot of power as individuals to create the change we envision in our school communities and within classrooms. We just have to wield it.
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