As a part of my series on educator diversity, I’m having conversations with educators of color that have expressed an interest in speaking with me about their experiences. The goal of these conversations is to provide voices to the plight of educators of color, and to show how we can not only get more young people of color into classrooms and into education in general, but that investments also need to be made on the back end to ensure we keep really good educators in the work.
For this interview, I have the opportunity to speak with Jamier Jones, a Temple University and AmeriCorps alum, who has worked in traditional, non-traditional, and post-secondary schools. Jamier is always seeking to connect with young professionals who are passionate about serving their communities, and enjoying life, as they figure the world out.
Malcolm Davis (MD): Hey Jamier, thanks so much for chatting with me today!
Jamier Jones (JJ): No problem, I’m looking forward to the conversation.
MD: So to start things off, let’s talk about some of the reasons why young people of color aren’t becoming educators. You said it’s professional networking, fear of being labeled by colleagues, and lack of access to sustainable employment and career planning. Can you tell us what you mean?
JJ: I believe in something called the 4 E’s: Education, Experience, Expenses, and Expertise. Just going to college, young Black people aren’t prepared to work as professionals, that goes back to the Miseducation of the Negro. I initially planned to be a teacher, but my advisor gave me my classes and I had to figure out on my own how to be an educator. There was very little direction during my internships on where I may be a better fit. School prepares you for one thing but not for what you’re best at. Then schools put you where it’s best for the school even if it’s not in your best interest. Plus I’ve seen that young Black people also get placed in the toughest schools.
MD: That’s so eloquently put. I love the aspect of the 4 E’s, can you tell us how else they play out in the process of young people trying to become educators?
JJ: For sure. Let’s talk about expenses and education. A lot of times young people can’t afford to go to the right schools to become teachers and get training. So they miss out on the best opportunities to learn how to teach in college because the school or schools cost too much. Then they graduate and the jobs don’t pay well right out the gate plus paying for certification and paying back student loans.
MD: It’s amazing how many schools of education miss out on great potential teachers of color because the young people can’t afford the tuition. I love the fact that there are some schools that have figured it out, or organizations like The Center for Black Educator Development that offer last dollar scholarships to students. So what about experience and expertise?
JJ: I don’t think any young person should be a teacher straight out of college, teaching is an art and the only way to get better is to do it constantly. Two semesters of student teaching isn’t enough and many times new teachers get placed in disorganized schools and keep leaving schools until they can get into a “good” school. New teachers need better mentorship and teacher apprentice programs to make it easier for them to transition into full time educators after working with mentors for a few years.
MD: Teacher apprenticeship programs and mentorship makes such a huge difference when talking about the success rate of young teachers. I agree, very few teachers are ready to walk into a classroom on day one and be successful. With residency programs and fellowships like Urban Teachers here in Philly, there are options for learning on the job while building your teacher toolbox. You made some excellent points about what’s keeping young people of color out of the classroom. In your opinion, what is preventing educators of color from staying in education? You said it’s a combo of salary, work life balance, and certifications, can you tell me more?
JJ: Being in disorganized cultures can take a toll on you, and you start seeing people quit year round. The work comes home with you and oftentimes you are working far beyond how you’re being compensated. The salary piece really isn’t enough, folks are coming into the work with a graduate degree and are only making $40,000 in some places. And then there’s credentials too, and the different kinds of credentials you need. Certification tests are tough and you have to pay out of pocket, plus our teachers need more mental health training and support.
MD: It’s interesting that at least two parts of what is pushing people out of the work, is also keeping people out. Salaries and certifications have come up numerous times in these conversations. Salute to the State of Pennsylvania for recently waiving the basic skills requirement for the next three years. Let’s talk about your education experience growing up. You had quite a few educators of color as a student, how did that affect your sense of culture and pride as a young person of color growing up?
JJ: I never felt like I needed to code switch, I didn’t really know anything about that until college. Having the diversity of a bunch of Black educators in your school you can find someone to relate to. All my best professors in college were Black, and it continued to show me that I can do almost anything. Long term though, we need more Black leadership in our schools, they seem to get pushed out or passed over more than their white peers.
MD: There’s been a ton of research around the fact that women and people of color tend to take longer to be promoted into principal positions. Having more leaders of color would definitely help keep a lot more educators in the work, but also may help to attract young people who can see themselves as a school leader down the road. As we close out the interview, I’d love to hear what guidance you’d give a new teacher of color?
JJ: The summer before you go into teaching, or when you graduate, you want to learn public speaking, financial literacy/budget, and pick a core subject you’re interested in. That way you can focus on a core area and teach something that you’re passionate about. You also need to read the Miseducation of the Negro and Educational Wastelands. They will give you valuable perspectives on what’s happening in education and these issues aren’t new. They teach you the school is a direct reflection of the community and vice versa, so it became important to get involved in the community as well.
MD: Jamier, I really appreciate your time and perspective on how we can make this work more appealing and equitable for educators of color.
JJ: It was great connecting with you Mal.