As students of color become the majority in schools across the nation, the U.S. government is pushing to employ a teaching force that better reflects the diverse student bodies of American schools.
According to an article written by U.S. Secretary of Education John King for the Washington Post, research has increasingly shown that diversity is an essential contributor of positive outcomes in our schools, workplaces and communities. Unfortunately, teachers of color currently make up just 18 percent of school faculties.
“One of my top priorities as education secretary is to help our public schools serve the needs of our increasingly diverse students so that they have the opportunity to pursue the American dream and use their talents to help our nation tackle some of its most difficult problems,” King wrote.
The Secretary of Education says that in order to address the racial disparities in America’s teaching force, we must inspire a wider array of young adults to take up teaching as a profession, train them to meet the needs of their diverse student population, and then actively recruit them.
Retaining teachers has also become an issue, the Washington Post reports. According to a study conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, African-American teachers are leaving the profession at a faster rate than white teachers, even though more teachers of color are being hired than before.
This leaves the remaining Black teachers to deal with the burden of addressing a number of issues involving African-American students at their respective schools, also known as the ‘invisible tax.’ The Washington Post reports that some African-American male teachers feel the ‘invisible tax’ is imposed on them when they’re only one of a few teachers of color at a school. These teachers, who only make up 2 percent of the national teaching force, are then expected to act as school enforcers, under the assumption that they can better handle behavioral misconduct involving young Black students, the news site reports.
The tax is also paid when teachers of color are charged with prepping their students for racism they may experience outside of school; deemed experts on the topic of cultural diversity; and building and maintaining relationships with students across an entire school, according to the Washington Post.
“Every time I take my students to an engineering competition, or to speak with industry partners, or to tour colleges, I have to have the code-switching talk,” explained Harry Preston, an African-American teacher who teaches physics in Baltimore. “That is a mental tax I personally pay as an educator.”
Amid the dwindling numbers of Black educators, a number of organizations are working to create opportunities for African-Americans, specifically African-American males, to enter the classroom as teachers. One such organization is the Honoré Center for Undergraduate Achievement.
According to News One, the program offers full scholarships for students to attend Southern University in New Orleans and in exchange, the students teach for two years following graduation.
“This nation and our community in particular needs more African-American males to manage some of those classrooms where they themselves came from,” program director Warren Bell told WWNO-Radio. “We have no problem with other folks moving to New Orleans to come in and teach. But to have so few people from the New Orleans community, that’s the piece we want to address.”
What makes the Honoré Center unique is that it recruits from communities where African-American males are more likely to go to prison than to college, according to News One.
“They take prospects who were not necessarily the best scholars, and fashion them into educators who are uniquely qualified to teach the next generation of Black boys in urban communities,” the news site reports.
Per the Washington Post, the Fellowship is another organization that seeks to encourage more men of color to view teaching as a means of social justice. Based in Philadelphia, the organization hosts various Black Male Educator Convening events where teachers discuss their aspirations to be seen as experts in the subjects that they teach or acknowledged for the unique connections they have with students. Their goal is to be seen as a resource for white teachers to better relate to Black students, the Washington Post reports.
“If everyone was asked to improve their relationships with these students . . . it would feel empowering,” said Sharif El-Mekki, founder of the Fellowship and principal at the Mastery Charter School’s Shoemaker campus in Philadelphia.
In his Washington Post article, U.S. Secretary of Education John King said there is strong evidence that shows Black students benefit from having teachers of color in the classroom, but that it’s also important for white children to see Black teachers.
“I encourage school and district leaders to work with their teachers and other staff members to develop a vision for how to make their campuses more inclusive by adopting proactive hiring processes, providing professional support, using a multicultural curriculum and offering cultural competence workshops for everyone,” he wrote. “The burden to end this tax shouldn’t fall only to the people already paying it.”