The Educational System is Putting African-American Teachers in Failing Schools, Expecting Them to be Miracle Workers
Students of all colors prefer Black teachers. Black students are suspended less; given more opportunities for gifted programs; are less likely to be placed in remedial education; and generally are not disciplined so harshly when they have a Black teachers. And even though many recent studies have shown that Black teachers help Black students (and other students of color), doing so actually hinders the teachers’ career development, according to a new study.
Despite the increasing diversity of the nation’s classrooms — with non-white children now making up the majority of public school students — teachers of color make up only 18 percent of the nation’s teacher population, and Black teachers are only 7 percent of that population. And despite the already miniscule numbers, Black and otherwise non-white educators are leaving the teaching profession at much higher rates than their white counterparts.
The study is from The Education Trust, a national nonprofit advocacy organization, and performed by researchers Ashley Griffin and Hilary Tackie. Griffin and Tackie’s report specifically explains why Black teachers are more likely to leave the teaching profession. The researchers used a focus group of 150 Black teachers and chose the participants to coincide with the various experience levels and teaching environments of Black teachers in the U.S.
“We’ve read many clips about the low number of African-American teachers and low recruitment figure,” Griffin told NewsOne. “But no one is really talking about retention. So we set out to listen to African-American teachers and have conversations about what’s happening across the nation.”
The researchers found several patterns. Among them: One of the most common reasons schools were excited to hire Black teachers is for their (sometimes assumed) ability to work well with Black students, which made their careers tread water. The other non-Black educators were allowed to move on and take on different and more challenging work (such as teaching Advanced Placement courses, for example), while Black educators revealed they were made to continue teaching low-performing students and to assume disciplinary roles.
Many of the teachers reported that because of these relationships, they were often in a unique position to deal with students with behavioral challenges, a fact that often led to them taking on disciplinarian roles.
“[B]eing able to easily discipline students often led others to see them as enforcers rather than educators — a reductive stereotype that we heard throughout the focus groups,” the researchers noted in the study. “These teachers were assumed to be tough and strict instead of being able to connect to their students and use that connection to establish order and create a classroom environment conducive to learning.”
“I think one of the challenges I dealt with was convincing parents that our decisions are the right decisions,” one Black educator told the researchers. “And I say that because a lot of parents would look to the white teachers and whatever they say was golden. There was no questioning them.”
While numerous teachers and educators loved being able to serve the often underserved population of Black students (with many pointing to such relationships as one of the main reasons they remain in the classroom), they also reported feeling pressure from school administrators, other teachers and sometimes even the students to create and nurture extensive relationships with every single Black student.
One of the participants in the focus group said that one such way to get pigeonholed as a disciplinarian of Black students is like this:
“ ‘You do it so well, let’s just keep you here.’ If I’m doing the ABCs every day, I never really get to do anything of a higher caliber. I think a lot of times, as African-American teachers, we get stuck in a certain group, because you do it well.”
Another participant, an Oakland-based elementary school teacher, said she wanted to have the same impact on her Black students that her fifth-grade teacher did for her.
“I make sure I get to know each and every one of my kids, and let them know that they can do it,” she said.
Though they clearly love their students and relish the opportunity to be an advocate for them, Black teachers often find themselves “acting as a parent, a hairdresser, a chauffeur, an advocate, a counselor, or a cheerleader,” according to the study. Serving their students the way that they do quite often means spending their own money to make sure the students have basic necessities. These reasons make the jobs of Black educators more stressful and exhausting with little to no career advancement, which is the major reason their retention is poor.
The report ends with a call to administrators to start the difficult task of addressing these systemic issues that create “deep-seated” roadblocks in Black educators’ careers.
The study says, “[I]t will take honest and critical examinations of school cultures and systemic processes in order for school and district leaders to develop the trust, support, and collegial working environments needed to recruit and retain teachers of color.”