I am not a teacher of color. And I care deeply about why young teachers of color are leaving education at higher rates than other teachers. I am concerned that our teaching workforce is growing progressively less diverse while our student population is growing more diverse.
Why do I care? I teach in a rural, Title One school serving a majority of students of color whose families are deeply affected by poverty. My students — and students across America — deserve to have successful role models from their community as teachers.
Attrition of good teachers — particularly teachers of color in schools that serve communities affected by poverty with a majority of students of color — is an essential issue in education reform. So we ask: Why are teachers leaving? And what can be done about it?
Research on teacher retention indicates that teachers of color who leave teaching say the decision is a result of working conditions that stifle decision-making power of the faculty and do not support teacher autonomy. Clearly, the schools where teachers of color work need to change in order to retain teachers.
Empowering teachers at the frontlines can make all the difference.
Ray Salazar, NBCT, a high school English teacher in Chicago Public Schools and blogger speaks to this need. “Good teachers want to find their own solutions to the problems that affect the students in front of them,” he said. “ Instead of simply accepting what someone in an office far away from the everyday struggles of our classrooms said.”
For decades, we have invested in teaching recruitment, and it has been largely successful. But if we continue to lose our young teachers—especially our teachers of color —-because we haven’t invested in changing schools, the investment in teacher recruitment is wasted. If we are serious about setting up for success young teachers of color and their students, then we need to expand programs that empower teachers to improve their schools.
Investing in teachers’ ideas for improving their schools is exactly the idea behind Teacher Impact Grants.
These funds send a clear message that the U.S Department of Education, ASCD and National Board, as well as the Leona M and Harry B Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Carnegie Corporation believe in the capacity of teachers to change their schools from within and recognize the decision-making power of faculty members. The funds provide an avenue for teachers to become agents of change in their own schools.
Using Teacher Impact Grant funds to institute school change, my colleagues at Ranchos Elementary and I shifted our model of professional development. Instead of bringing in expensive outside consultants, we called on the expertise right in our building. We analyzed video of our own instruction, critiqued and supported each other’s classroom efforts. And we explored systems or protocols within our school that we could adjust to improve learning outcomes and teacher morale.
The change in professional development had an impact.
One colleague shared, “This is the one bright point in my year. This is what is keeping me in teaching.” Teachers reported feeling more supported by their peers and learning from one another.
A small change at the very bottom of the system can make the difference that keeps our teachers of color in the classroom. A grant from outside of the system can also contribute to positive change. For an investment to be truly effect, a combination is needed to truly address the critical concern and stem the loss of teachers of color from our classrooms.
Minority teacher recruitment, employment, and retention: 1987-2013
Richard M. Ingersoll, Henry May