Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Have you ever had a Black teacher? Ever had a Black principal? Do you remember seeing Black staff members at your junior high, high school, college or university?
Did you ever read a book in school about Black history or systemic racism (not just the posters and quotes devoted to Black History Month)?
Me? Never had one. From elementary school all the way through law school.
If you’ve never had a Black teacher or learned about Black history or systemic racism, here’s likely the reason why:
“The proportion of teachers of color in the workforce continues to lag far behind the share of students of color in schools across the nation. Today, 51 percent of students in U.S. public schools are students of color, but just 20 percent of teachers are teachers of color.” -The Education Trust
The statistics for Black principals are even worse.
You may be asking yourself, Why does this even matter?
Several studies show that when students of color, and especially Black students, see a representation of themselves in their teachers, in the staff at school, and in the curriculum, it has a positive impact upon their lives and upon their academic achievement. This positive impact reaches not only to Black students and students of color but to all students.
While schools, districts, and states have made gains in recent years by hiring Black teachers, staff, and teachers of color in predominantly white schools, the problem is that they are unable to retain them.
So, the question becomes: why are schools unable to retain Black teachers, teachers of color, and Black educational staff?
A recent study published by The Education Trust, in their article If You Listen, We will Stay: Why Teachers of Color Leave and How to Disrupt Teacher Turnover, dug deeper into this question and found the following reasons for why Black educational staff leaves. Oftentimes, it’s because they:
experience an antagonistic school culture
are deprived of agency and autonomy
navigate unfavorable working conditions
bear the high cost of being a teacher of color
I’m familiar with these reasons, as is Rhonda Kimmons, former principal at a high school in a district made up of predominantly white staff, with about 27% students of color. Rhonda experienced very similar treatment. Rhonda was the first Black female principal at this institution, and I was hired as a consultant to help this district improve its culture, diversity, and inclusion.
When I started working with the district, I began connecting with the staff, conducting focus groups, and created a diversity and inclusion team. It was then I discovered that Mrs. Kimmons often felt devalued and unappreciated. The following is a summary of how Mrs. Kimmons felt she was being treated:
being held to a different standard of expectation, where she had to perform at levels that are higher than the norm.
completely isolated and alone, being the only female and Black representation.
feeling an expectation to handle all issues regarding race, diversity, and inclusion.
like her behavior was measured and judged through intangibles on a daily basis.
that she could say the same thing a white person would say and be told she sounded angry or like she had an “attitude.”
like all eyes were constantly on her, and that she was “under a microscope.”
After listening to her concerns, I quickly came to the conclusion that Rhonda was the very reason I was hired. As a result, I began to turn much-needed attention toward helping Mrs. Kimmons feel valued and included.
I called a meeting to help mediate the issues that Mrs. Kimmons was experiencing. I even offered seven remedial steps for the superintendent to follow, to give Mrs. Kimmons the respect, dignity, and value that she so richly deserved.
To my knowledge, these steps were not implemented.
Unfortunately, in April of 2020, it was brought to my attention that Mrs. Kimmons was no longer an employee of the district. The school offered ZERO reasons as to why she was no longer there. And when I asked Mrs. Kimmons, she said she was not allowed to speak about the matter. This was all done during the onset of the pandemic.
Should this district be required to explain why Mrs. Kimmons is no longer there?
Yes, I believe this district should offer an explanation. I believe they need to be open to their school staff, to the taxpayers, and the community as to why a highly qualified Black principal with a stellar record, in a predominately white institution, is no longer there.
Furthermore, they should offer an explanation as to what strategies they will take to make sure they will hire and retain more staff members and teachers of color. After all, there are ONLY about 14 Black staff members out of the approximate 400 staff.
If schools aren’t willing to face these issues and be open about what’s going on behind closed doors, we will not find solutions. We need public schools to be more public and to put strategies in place to help retain Black educators and staff.
Here are solutions schools should highly consider in order to retain educators of color:
Create a district-wide priority to recruit, retain, and support teachers and educational staff of color.
Listen to, affirm, and take action on issues impacting teachers and educational staff of color.
Collect and disaggregate data (by race/ethnicity) on teacher recruitment, hiring, and retention.
Organize a race-based diversity advisory team that works closely with district leaders and the board to listen to concerns AND to take action.
Invest in the recruitment, preparation, and development of strong, diverse leaders, committed to positive working conditions for a diverse workforce.
Empower teachers of color by ensuring curriculum, learning environments, and work environments are inclusive and respectful of all racial and ethnic groups.
Develop school environments that are reflective of the cultures they serve.
Here’s the bottom line: We realize that schools are dealing with a lot right now, especially in light of the COVID-19 guidelines and requirements. However, the issue of recruiting and retaining Black educators and staff needs as much attention as any other issue - now more than ever.
Black students and students of color achieve more, as do all students, when schools retain educators of color. It's not enough to just recruit Black teachers and educational staff of color. Schools must actively create environments where Black teachers and educators of color feel respected, valued, affirmed, and a part of a culturally and racially-relevant school community. This is an imperative issue, and one in which schools must take action on. The time is now to implement racially and culturally relevant strategies, policies, procedures, and practices that are reflective in the people and in the curriculum.
On a final note, I’m happy to report that Mrs. Kimmons has secured another position as Principal of the Ella P. Stewart Academy in Toledo. I’m confident that she will make great contributions to this school community. If you get the chance, send her a note of encouragement at the Ella P. Stewart Academy, 707 Avondale Ave., Toledo, OH 43604-2963.
Lastly, if you work at a school, are a parent, or are a student, I challenge you to look around and take ACTION!
Print this blog, along with the study, If You Listen, We will Stay, Why Teachers of Color Leave and How to Disrupt Teacher Turnover, and take it to your school leaders to start a discussion.
Also, here’s a great podcast to listen to - Black Educators Matter, by Danielle Moneyham: https://anchor.fm/blackeducatorsmatter
Interested in having me speak to your school or organization? Click HERE to book me for your next event or professional development day.