We need more BIPOC teachers. Here’s what we can do.
The author’s son, Marcellus, with his teacher, Natalye James. Courtesy photo.
My eight-year-old son has a Black teacher for the first time ever. The relationship he is developing with her is so beautiful to see. She inspires and supports him. He lights up when she asks about his favorite book and beams with pride when sharing that she plans to stop by his basketball game.
It’s one thing to know the research studies that document the importance and impact of teacher diversity — especially for young students of color — but it is truly remarkable to witness it firsthand with your own child.
For my three boys and other young children of color, Minnesota’s education gap is sobering. New data released in the Nation’s Report Card shows Minnesota math and reading test scores have dropped to a shocking level, erasing nearly 30 years of academic gains.
In Minnesota, average eighth-grade math scores fell from 291 in 2019 to 280 this year, one of the largest declines in the country. Math achievement for white 9-year-olds dropped by five points, but for Latino and Black students, the damage was even greater (eight points and thirteen points, respectively).
This increases the already existing barriers students of color face to enter careers in STEM fields. While this gap has always been an issue in Minnesota schools, the pandemic has exacerbated it.
At the heart of our path forward are teachers working on the frontlines with our students everyday. In a 2020 paper published by the Science of Learning and Development Alliance, researchers concluded that “the presence and quality of our relationships with teachers may have more impact on learning and development than any other factor.”
Here is a proposed path forward to recruit diverse teachers and ensuring success for all students:
- Remove burdensome financial barriers to certification, credentialing and continuing education training for educators. We should expand scholarship and loan forgiveness programs and support alternative licensure programs that allow candidates to complete all state requirements for training at an approachable price tag while working full time at a school. Additionally, increased financial incentives and pay could bolster and enhance teacher retention.
- Support a diverse pipeline of qualified professionals pursuing teacher licensure in Minnesota classrooms. There is a systemic shortage of teachers in the state, particularly teachers of color. The Minnesota Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) found in their 2021 Teacher Supply and Demand Report that more than half of Minnesota’s teachers who hold a Tier 3 or Tier 4 license are not currently teaching. Seventy percent of districts report being somewhat or very significantly impacted by the teacher shortage. And only 5% of full-time teacher hours are staffed by teachers of color. To combat this retention struggle we must support “Grow Your Own” initiatives that invest in the existing talent within our school buildings and broader community.
- Commit more funding towards local, diverse teacher recruitment initiatives. We must think outside the box and identify additional, non-traditional pathways — such as tutors, volunteers and mentors — who have already forged bonds with students. Programs like Black Men Teach, ServeMinnesota, and Teach For America Twin Cities are committed to recruiting young people with lived experiences similar to the students that need them most.
- Increase access to school-based mental health services and invest more in creating inclusive school cultures. Our schools should be places where our teachers and students can bring their full selves and feel like they belong. Student mental health reached crisis levels last year, disproportionately harming children of color. The pressure on schools to figure out solutions has never been greater. The US Department of Education found that educators who provide emotional support and establish positive relationships influence children’s and students’ health, overall mental wellness, and life satisfaction. Our schools should be places that teachers and students alike are excited to enter each morning and have the support they need.
I know the joy and excitement of learning that my 8-year old experiences with his teacher. We can and must bring that joy to every Minnesota child.
Our state motto proclaims, L’etoile du Nord. We are our own North Star. The path forward must be built on what unites us. I believe these unifying steps outlined here will establish a future in which all kids have access to diverse, passionate teachers that are professionally and personally fulfilled by the important work ahead of us all.
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