One of the recurring education headlines over the last year has been America’s unprecedented teacher shortage — especially as Black teachers quit at previously unseen rates.
Plenty of experts have ideas about how to end the mass exodus of educators from the classroom, but Eric Duncan, the assistant director of P-12 policy at The Education Trust, says there’s a solution we need to talk about more: If we had better recruitment success bringing and keeping Black educators in the classroom, the same shortage issues wouldn’t exist.
“If we want to address teacher shortages, teacher diversity is not only a key lever,” Duncan says, “it could be the key lever to addressing some of the long-term chronic shortages that affect some of our most vulnerable schools and student population.”
In the Education Trust and Educators for Excellence joint 2022 Voices from the Classroom report, results showed that 86% of teachers nationally said they would spend their entire career as a classroom teacher, but that number dropped to 52% when looking only at responses from teachers of color.
Unlike their white colleagues, Black educators don’t get to take for granted that they belong in the classroom. They don’t always have a peer, leader, or someone who will advocate for them or mentor them. Black educators also work in environments that aren’t necessarily welcoming, respectful, or culturally affirming.
“All those stresses contribute to their perception that this profession isn’t something that they can stay in and be successful,” Duncan says.
The Push for Nuanced Policy Solutions
Though boosting teacher diversity might seem like a new push, the idea’s been raised for the last 30-40 years, Duncan says. However, instead of simply saying that we need more teachers of color in the classroom, policy makers are now peeling back the layers to look at why the pipeline of new teachers isn’t sustainable.
“The conversation has become a little bit more nuanced,” Duncan says. “It’s been elevated as a priority.”
Research has proven that students of color who have teachers — and principals — who look like them achieve higher academic success, including higher reading and math scores. They also have higher high school graduation rates, and are more likely to enroll in college. But it’s not just students of color who benefit from having teachers of color — white students benefit socially, emotionally, and academically, too.
“If we grew our teachers at a faster rate, and teachers of color — specifically Black teachers, and even more specifically, Black male teachers — we would see a serious pivot in our American school system,” says Dr. Fedrick Ingram, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers.
It’s Not as Easy as Raising Salaries
It’s no secret that teachers don’t get paid enough. But in most surveys of Black educators, earning a higher salary is not usually the top strategy for recruitment or retention.
However, the narrative shouldn’t be that Black educators don’t want to get paid more, Duncan says. Instead, it shows that Black educators face so many challenges at work, that when given an opportunity to share, higher pay doesn’t land at the top.