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 Matthew Rivera, educator and baseball coach. Matthew is at the start of his career in education, and aspires to make an impact in the same school where he once was a student. Being new to the craft, Matt has a very unique perspective on how education can become more appealing to young people of color.
Malcolm (MD): Matt, thank you for chatting with me and for taking time to respond to my questions. You are such an amazing person and I’m so excited for your journey as an educator. As someone that’s new to this work, why aren’t we attracting more young people of color?
Matt Rivera (MR): I know a lot of people I went to college with talked about being teachers but the certification process was too many steps. People were trying to go to get into different teacher residency programs but the waiting process was too long and they second guessed their decision. A lot of people don’t really show the opportunities that are in teaching, I didn’t know about NYC Men Teach until you told me about it. My professors didn’t tell me about the programs at all, the access is there but they aren’t really putting it out there.
MD: Did you have anyone talking to you about the process or what you need to do to get certified?
MR: No, a lot of people didn’t know how to do the steps for certification, and there was no one there that was helping walk you through the process. That made it a lot harder for people as well.
MD: Certification is something that I’ve heard a number of times during these interviews. I hope that states continue to look at how they can make the certification process more feasible so we aren’t actively preventing good and caring people from entering the work. Since you now have some experience working in schools, and you’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of teachers at your old middle school, what is one of the primary reasons we’re seeing good educators leave?
MR: Salary for sure. I feel like there are qualified educators of color but they aren’t getting paid for what they did in regards to getting their master’s and the work they do in the building. I had a convo with a colleague and she said things are changing. A lot of people don’t know about the different fellowships available that can boost your salary so many people feel like it’s not balanced.
MD: Salary can be a hindrance, especially after going to school to get an advanced degree. Anything else that stood out to you in regards to why people may leave education?
MR: There’s also little representation in leadership, and you see a lot of times teachers of color don’t have a voice when they understand the community that they work in better than some of their peers. It can become difficult to want to stay a teacher when you don’t feel as though you matter to the school or district.
MD: This one is so tough because when we consistently lose good BIPOC educators, there are fewer people that can actually take over leadership roles. There’s so much data that reflects the importance of BIPOC administrators in the building, and how they have a positive effect on their BIPOC teachers. Representation matters at all levels.
MR: For sure.
MD: As a young person growing up in the South Bronx, you had a lot of educators of color as a student. How did that affect your sense of culture and pride?
MR: It made me feel comfortable. Growing up on 194th Street and Merion Ave was normal to me even though it was dangerous. I had my first Black teacher in middle school and they showed me there’s opportunities to be successful. Where I’m from people feel like if you’re born here you die here, but having teachers of color expanded my mind to know that as long as I get an education I can do whatever I want to do. Having people that look like me, I can relate to them and it makes me feel like I can do anything.
MD: So did having educators of color make you want to become an educator?
MR: It definitely did. I remember when I first met you at the Bronx Writing Academy and you told me I had talent and I was hanging with the wrong kids. It makes me want to give back to people the way you gave back to me. That’s a big reason that I became an educator, I had educators of color that cared and talked to me about how to be better at school and life.
MD: Matt it’s been such an honor to be a part of your life to this point. Seeing you grow from an inspired and motivated eighth grader into the outstanding young man you are today has been such a joy. I can’t wait to see your continued impact with the young people that you teach and coach, I know their lives will be so much better after having met you.
You can also connect with me via my podcast The 3rd Lap Podcast and learn more about The Center for Black Educator Development here.