Fully engaged. Creating a better world, one leader at a time. Empowering leaders to live life on purpose. These are a few slogans used by various companies to attract employees. What I know is that who we are as educators is not a motto, quick slogan, rhyming phrase, or hashtag. And rarely do these catch phrases – be it mottos, mission statements, or vision statements – encourage us to become educators.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a summit to recruit minority teachers. Being a girl of color growing up in the East and taking STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) classes was overwhelming, partly because the teachers did not look like me nor make it seem like teaching was an option for me. Although I did well in school, I did not have a teacher who encouraged me to go into education, and my first Black teacher was in high school. Dawn Tafari, assistant professor of education at Winston-Salem State University, says it this way, “If they (black students) don’t see teachers who look like them, if they don’t see teachers who appreciate what they bring to the classroom, the cultural capital, their nuances, the way they dress, the music they like, if those things are not valued in the classroom, then they won’t see the school as a safe place, they won’t want to stay. And they definitely won’t want to become teachers.” This was certainly true for me.
The chart above is data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, published in 2017. While eighty percent of North Carolina public school teachers are white, less than fifty percent of students are white. That means many black students, who make up almost half of the state’s public school enrollment, miss out on the benefits of having teachers who look like them. Attending a school with a diverse student body can help prepare children for citizenship in a multicultural democracy. In Pitt County, students of color are four times more likely to be taught by someone who doesn’t look like them than are white students. Research published in the Institute of Labor Economics showed that black students taught by just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade were thirty percent more likely to graduate from high school; what might it mean if our Pitt County students had just two or three black teachers over the course of their educational career?
Teachers beget teachers. So any one of the students of color sitting in your classroom right now may be the next AP Chemistry teacher or the next Kindergarten teacher. Yes, the ones we have right now – the third grade black little girl who sits at the reading table of all white children needs a teacher who believes in her and gives her the opportunity. When teachers acknowledge the cultural capacity and nuances students of color bring to the class, it gives them the feeling that school is safe. Research shows students are more likely to do well academically when they have psychological safety.
So what does all of this mean for DEEL? I started this blog using slogans. Well, the slogan of DEEL is to Recruit, Retain, and Reward. Being part of the Human Resources department of PCS, I am beginning to spend more time working on the first R: Recruiting. We have got to recruit teachers, especially those of color, before we can retain and/or reward them for being in the district. The sad truth is that there are less and less people going into education, including persons of color. If we are going to recruit more teachers of color, then let’s begin with the teachers and future-teachers currently sitting in our classrooms. “I want you” to join me in recruiting the best and brightest minds already here.