Shortage of black teachers: Experts attribute shortage to underrepresentation in colleges and discrimination at work | East Bay Express


A growing body of research shows that black students who have at least one black teacher growing up are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college than those who do not.

Yet California is still sorely lacking in black teachers.

Experts attribute the lack of black K-12 teachers in California to a number of barriers, including underrepresentation in teacher certification programs, as well as workplace discrimination that incites some to leave the profession.

As America attempts to address racial injustice, some California school districts are adopting teacher pipeline programs specifically targeting potential black teachers while working to retain teachers and listen to what might divert them.

Data from the California Department of Education shows that in the 2018-2019 school year, the most recent year available, only 3.9% of public school teachers in the state, or about 12 000, were black, according to Ed-Data. Meanwhile, black students — about 335,000 — made up 5.4% of the state’s enrollment.

Michael Obah, a biology teacher at MetWest High School in Oakland, said the lack of black teachers in California inspired him to return to his “vocation”, leaving behind a job as a well-paying corporate accountant at San Francisco. Obah was a high school teacher for five years in his home country of Ghana before immigrating to the United States in 2001.

“The amount of money I was making wasn’t what made me happy,” Obah said. “I was reading the news and seeing struggling minorities, people who looked like me unable to get jobs, housing and going through a lot of hardship to do well in school.”

Obah said he was able to pursue the career change through Oakland Unified’s Grow Our Own programs. The Teacher Residency Program pays student teachers a $15,000 stipend while they complete their degrees and apprentice under the guidance of a mentor. In addition to the stipend, Obah said he also received emotional support, workplace support, help with test and interview preparation, and connections to Oakland schools for the job. ‘use.

Governor Gavin Newsom and lawmakers allocated $350 million in the 2021-22 budget for one-time grants to develop new teacher residency programs or expand existing ones. UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education associate professor Travis Bristol, who chairs the state Department of Education’s Educator Diversity Advisory Group, said the cost of teacher preparation programs is one of the major obstacles that hinders the pipeline of black teachers.

Oakland Unified’s “pipeline” programs work to attract, develop, develop and retain black educators in the city, said Sarah Glasband, director of talent development, recruitment and retention for the district. . Pipelines are programs aimed at providing underrepresented groups with the resources they need to enter specific professions.

Some of Oakland Unified’s programs are for substitute teachers and other district employees who want to become teachers. The district also provides support for teachers taking alternative licensing routes, Glasband said, and offers debt relief, licensing test preparation and tuition payment.

The result was an increase in net black teacher retention rates from 73% in 2016-17 to 86% in 2020-21.

In 2020-21, black students made up 22.1% of enrollment at Oakland Unified and black teachers made up 19.9% ​​of teachers in the district.

Obah, the biology professor, said he saw firsthand the underrepresentation of black teachers early in the accreditation process. He was the only person of color out of about 40 students in his science teacher degree program at Cal State East Bay.

“My co-students were very inclusive, but there’s always something in the background when you look around and you’re the only person of color,” he said.

A December 2020 analysis by TNTP [formerly The New Teacher Project] found that nearly all states had higher percentages of enrolled teachers who identified as white compared to white students in public schools. Nationally, enrollees in teacher preparation programs were nearly two-thirds white, while public school students were 47% white.

Obah said he shared a special bond with black students.

“I feel like they relate to me and I relate to them,” he said. “They are curious about Africa – our ancestry alone is a strong bond – and I think they see me in them, and they are able to approach me more.”

Some black students told him that they participated more in his class than in other classes. One day, Obah said, a student came to him in tears, saying he was having suicidal thoughts and felt he was “not competent, not worthy”. Obah said he was “taking the opportunity” and assured the student that there was nothing wrong with him – that it was up to the teachers to present the course content in a way that he can learn in a stress-free environment.

“I know for sure that he bypassed other teachers and didn’t crumble, but with me he was vulnerable,” Obah said. “He spoke to me, and I spoke to him and I was able to transfer him to a school psychologist who could help me. For me, that was a highlight, a connection – because he was a black student and that I am a black teacher.

Deyango Harris, who teaches special education at Pleasant Hill’s College Park High School, has felt the brunt of being the only black teacher at his school. He was also the only black teacher at the school where he previously worked.

Harris said on several occasions he felt his concerns were not taken seriously and that he was treated unfairly because of his race. He said a series of incidents led him to file a discrimination complaint with the school’s human resources department. One of the problems was that he was the only teacher in his department who constantly had to move between classrooms, which according to Harris – who has been teaching for more than a decade – is usually reserved for beginning teachers.

Adam Clark, superintendent of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District — which includes College Park High — said, via email, that he and the district board are “committed to ensuring that all students, families, and staff members feel safe and welcomed”. Clark would not comment on Harris’ situation.

“We take reports of discrimination seriously and follow board policies in all investigations,” Clark said.

If school administrators want to retain black teachers, Harris said, they need to take the provision of mental health support seriously. And they need to understand the microaggressions they experience on a regular basis.

“They don’t realize the mental toll that takes on a black educator, day in and day out, in a predominantly white institution,” Harris said.

One of LA Unified’s goals for retaining black teachers is to tackle the so-called “invisible tax” on black male teachers, a concept the former US education secretary , John King, spoke in the Washington Post in 2016. The Invisible Tax describes how black teachers are stereotyped by non-black colleagues, such as being tasked with handling disciplinary issues with black students or the assumption that they want to be involved in athleticism.

The district provides professional development opportunities for principals to address this issue on their campuses and hosts focus groups for teachers to talk about their experiences and share suggestions with district administrators.

Harris said he was committed to staying in school in part because of his work with the school’s black student union. He leads the student club, which is made up of around 60 students of different races. Harris keeps her classroom open during lunch for the club, plays music, and lets students in and out. Some black students tell him he’s the only adult they feel comfortable turning to, Harris said. Students also tell him that some resent racial abuse, hear the N-word being used on campus, and feel the incidents are not being disciplined appropriately.

“If I could be the African-American man that these students might look up to or look up to for some cultural relevance, someone who understands them, then I’m happy to do that. It’s not some kind of reluctant pressure, it’s good pressure,” Harris said. “If it wasn’t for them, I would have already left.”


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