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Five Ways to Bring African-Americans Back to the Teaching Profession

President Obama, recently said in a speech, “If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child, become a teacher. Our country needs you.”

 

The President and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have backed up this declaration by launching their TEACH campaign. The program was launched in the fall of 2010 to persuade more minorities - particularly males - to enter education. The federal government has launched the teach.gov website, a one-stop-shop for anyone wanting to enter teaching, including professionals hoping to switch careers.

 

It is too early to see if this campaign will result in an increase of minorities entering the teaching profession. However, I have a few ideas on how to bring teaching-- once the mainstay of the African-American middle class --a career of choice again.

 

1. Create Urgency

The state of education in the United States is easy to ignore if you don't have any children in the public school system. What we need to understand is that public education is not just poor people’s problem anymore..it’s everyone’s problem.

 

As students in the United States fall quickly behind other countries, the skill level necessary to be successful keeps getting higher. An undergraduate degree has become equal to a high school diploma. In order for us to close this achievement gap, ALL schools need excellent teachers.

 

In New York City as in many other cities, strong schools are clustered in specific neighborhoods. If you happen to live in a neighborhood with limited choices, you may look at private schools. In NYC, this private school route costs over $34,000 a year. Your next option is charter schools and the chances of getting into them is by the roll of the dice. A final option is Catholic school but if you’re not religious it isn’t really an option. This scenario could probably be applied to any major city. Families who have to think about the economics of education have few options.

 

African-Americans need to see the necessity of coming back and improving the options of future generations.

 

2. Create Access

Right now there are a variety of ways to enter the teaching profession. Programs like Teach for America and The New Teacher Project’s Teaching Fellows, have created ‘shortcuts’ for college graduates to teach in high-need areas quickly. However, the number of minorities in these programs are small. There needs to be a concentrated effort for these organizations to recruit from state colleges and HBCUs in order to diversify their cohorts.

 

Access is also needed for college graduates to receive test preparation in order to enter the teaching field. All states now require exams to begin teaching and this has become a point of contention for many minority candidates. Test preparation needs to be a part of alternative and traditional teaching programs.

 

African-Americans need to be targeted for teacher programs and provided the support to be successful in those programs.

 

3. Create Opportunities for Advancement

Currently the only way to move ahead as a teacher it to leave teaching. This is a popular route especially for Black male educators. However, this rapid advancement does not help the students who need several years of strong teaching in a row to have a chance of closing the achievement gap. There needs to be a way to keep quality teachers in the classroom. For the past several years New York City has had a lead teacher program. This teacher receives an additional $10,000 a year and teaches one less class a day. The ‘extra’ period is to support colleagues in improving their instructional practice. With the turnaround grant money, a similar program was created. Master teachers, who have proven track records of success, receive additional compensation to remain in their struggling school and support the ‘turnaround’ process.

 

African-Americans need to be encouraged to stay in the classroom.

 

4. Create a Community

In order to maintain your sanity as a teacher you need to know that you’re not alone. Administrators need to create opportunities for professional learning communities. Working in silos is exhausting. The school needs to be a community where the adults are learning just as much as the students are learning.

 

On November 10, 2010, I became a member of one of the best professional learning communities I ever had-twitter. This universe has countless educators from all over the world sharing experiences, resources and support to each other. In a few short months I have learned more about education then in all the hours I sat through school and professional development. A favorite hashtag of mine is #BlackEdu. This community was pioneered by Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (@ileducprof). The focus of this community to bring Black K-12 educators and college students together to talk about education and educational policy.

 

African-Americans need to be provided a learning community that is supportive of their role in the school environment.

 

5. Create Sustainability

Teachers are expected to be parents, prison guards, secretaries and social workers. Oftentimes, respect or support from parents or the administration is minimal. And when you're working with students who have large deficits in their education, you don't receive success stories ever day that make you forget about all the negatives.

 

The school community needs to provide additional supports for students beyond the teacher. Partnerships with community based organizations, hospitals and agencies will allow the teacher to focus on student learning. Providing support to parents so that they can be equal partners will keep teachers going to see positive results.

 

African-Americans need to given support to be in schools that use the community as a resource which allows them to focus on educating the whole student.

 

If we are to see a diverse teaching profession we need to understand that the strategy needs to be targeted and the circumstances understood.

 

This post is part of the Those Who Can, Teach Series. For the month of February these posts will focus on the Black Educator.


 


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