Author Archives: Woody

Students Pay the Price When Teachers of Color Exit

Black teachers are leaving the profession in droves, and new research confirms that students of color are paying the highest price for this disparity.

This is the conclusion of an article in the April/May 2018 issue of Ebony.com. The article focuses on Jason Dunning, a black teacher of science at a virtually all-black middle school in Birmingham, Alabama.

“For a lot of (my students), me standing there wearing bow tie and a lab coat is a big deal,” Mr. Dunning says. “For many, I’m the first black man they’ve ever seen as a teacher, outside of P.E. or as a coach.”

Jason Dunning, inspiring his students in the science classroom.

And his presence is having an impact. As Principal Davida Hill Johnson says, “So many of them want to be scientists now.”

One of them is seventh grader J’layah Shepherd, who says connecting with Dunning has inspired her to attend college and pursue a science career.

“I didn’t really know what to expect, having a black man as a science teacher, but it’s been great,” she says. “He’s like one of us, and there’s more connection there.”

Statistics suggest that it is increasingly rare for African-American students like Shepherd to have teachers who look like them. Now, for the first time, there are more students of color (51 percent) enrolled in public schools than white students. But teachers of color represent only about 20 percent of the nation’s elementary and secondary school teaching force. And more than 40 percent of public schools don’t have a single teacher of color, according to the National Education Association (NEA).

(In Connecticut, although more than 40 percent of public school students are students of color, only about seven percent of teachers are persons of color.)

Studies have shown that a lack of teacher diversity tends to adversely affect students from underrepresented groups, especially students of color.

“Students of color learn better when they see a teacher of color in the classroom, and they’re more likely to stay in school and graduate,” says Lisette Partelow, director of K-12 strategic initiatives for the Center for American Progress (CAP). “So the impact is very measurable. We also believe a diverse teacher workforce can help students develop a more realistic and inclusive worldview. All students benefit from a more diverse teacher workforce.”

For decades, the positive effects of same-race teacher exposure were almost exclusively anecdotal. But recent research affirms that outcomes, such as test scores, attendance and suspension rates, are affected by who is doing the teaching. Experts say diverse teachers serve as role models for students of color, and they have been shown to have higher expectations and a better cultural understanding of those students.

In fact, an April 2017 study by the Institute of Labor Economics (ILE) found that having just one black teacher in third, forth or fifth grade reduced a low-income black boy’s probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent. And if a black male or female student from a low-income household had a black teacher, the ILE  found that the student was more likely to plan to attend a four-year college.

However, in numerous studies and surveys from school districts nationwide, black teachers have reported high levels of job dissatisfaction. They have expressed widespread concerns about job security and concerns about implicit bias directed toward them and students of color, too.

As a result, teachers of color are leaving the profession in droves. Contributing to the problem is that research confirms that black teachers are more likely than their white counterparts to be clustered in high-need, economically disadvantaged urban schools with limited resources. And many of those who do land jobs at more affluent or well-resourced suburban districts often report feeling isolated.

Jerry Washington, one of two other black, male teachers at Dunning’s school, believes that increasing teacher pay is at the heart of fixing the leaky diverse teacher pipeline. “The fact that people feel that teachers don’t get paid enough is a big part of the problem,” he says. “I think that if the salaries were raised, more people would be willing to consider education.”

Many cities and states have implemented initiatives to recruit and retain more teaches of color. In New York City, for example, the NYC Men Teach program aims to put 1,000 additional men of color on course to become teachers over three years.

Mr. Dunning believes that the black teacher shortage will turn around when the black community makes it a priority. “We have to make that sacrifice because, for so many of our students, we are the only positive role models that they’ll et to see,” he says. “If we don’t educate and inspire our youth to become the very best, nobody else will.”

‘WorldTeach’ Fulfills Dream of 2012 Alma Exley Scholar

When we honored Jessica Raugitinane in 2012, she said it was her dream to teach abroad. After two years of teaching in Washington, D.C., she realized her dream.

During the 2016-2017 school year, she taught English as a second language in Quito, Ecuador, through a volunteer program called WorldTeach.

“I have always wanted to teach abroad,” she told me, “especially in Latin America, to practice my Spanish and immerse myself in the culture. I wanted something longer than a study abroad experience to truly give me the time to build myself a community in my new home.”

From Young Children to Adults

After studying elementary education at UConn and twoyears of teaching fifth grade, it was quite a change of pace to teach adults in Ecuador.

“I absolutely loved teaching adults,” she said. “My students included high school, university, and adult students. Since they had to pay to attend the English classes, there was consistently a high level of enthusiasm and dedication since most students were financially and personally invested in their learning. It was refreshing to feel that every minute of teaching was sincerely appreciated by my students.

“The appreciation from my students was overwhelming. At the end of each teaching cycle, students expressed their gratitude with kind words, gifts, and a desire to spend quality time with their teacher. (We went out dancing to celebrate the end of the cycle!)

“That was another great aspect of teaching adults. I felt that I could get to know my students on a more personal level as a peer since we were in the same age range. Student engagement increased once they got to know me better as a person, getting to know my interests and life experiences.”

Immersed in Latino Culture

Spanish was one of her three majors at UConn, along with elementary education and English. And she minored in Latino Studies.

“Much of my interest in the Latino culture comes from my upbringing,” she said. “My mother is from El Salvador, and I visited El Salvador every two years throughout my youth. My desire to practice my Spanish also influenced my decision to study abroad in Seville, Spain, while at UConn.”

Ms. Raugitinane said that her studies at UConn prepared her to teach in a different culture.

“UConn opened my eyes to educational differences in the United States,” she said. “Teaching in Mansfield and student-teaching in Hartford were two very different experiences, due to socio-economic and cultural factors. This sparked my interest in broadening my perspective on education.

“With my master’s experience in London, I also saw how the U.S. and British education systems differ. Teaching in Ecuador was another opportunity to experience another country’s education system.

Teachers Highly Valued 

“Although teaching English to adults is outside of public K-12 education, it was interesting to see how teachers, especially English teachers, were valued in Ecuador. My name was never Ms. Raugitinane, but ‘teacher’ — a constant recognition of my profession that my students valued.”

Since returning from Ecuador last year, Ms. Raugitinane has been teaching fourth grade in a dual-language elementary school in her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. And she has been applying lessons learned in Ecuador to her current classroom.

“The biggest take-away from teaching college students is to allow my students to get to know me as a person, no matter the age,” she said. “With elementary students, it’s easy to just be that adult who teaches, disciplines, and tries to maintain an adult-to-child relationship. However, I noticed that my fourth grade students responded well once they knew that my family was from El Salvador just like them or they knew that I enjoyed dancing and singing to the same songs they do.”

Connecting Through Language

Ms. Raugitinane’s knowledge of Spanish helped her in teaching English to Spanish-speakers.

“It was helpful when teaching something obscure from the English grammar and I could easily relate it to the grammar in Spanish,” she said. “This also increased student engagement. Since students viewed me as someone knowledgeable in both languages, they began to trust me even more.”

Dual-Language School

Now Ms. Raugitinane is teaching in a dual-language, K-5  school. Math and Science are taught in Spanish, and English and Social Studies are taught in English. But all state standardized testing is in English.

This past year, 75 percent of her students identified as Hispanic, while the other 25 percent identified as white, non-Hispanic. Most of the student population is Spanish-speaking.

Helping Immigrant Families

“Teaching in Ecuador helped me realize that I truly need to be in a school with a high Latino student population,” she said. “My interest in teaching began with my desire to help Latino immigrant families, and now I am finally in a school that has just that. It is still difficult being a new teacher with only four years of experience, but it’s where I need to be to continue growing in a place that I am passionate about. However, teaching in Ecuador has also opened my interest to teaching adults. We will see where my career path leads to next!”

-Woody Exley

Diversity Shapes Perceptions of Who Is and Who Can Be Successful

Editor’s note: Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims, whom we honored in 2008, was the keynote speaker at the reception at which Theodore Martinez was introduced as the 2018 Alma Exley Scholar. Over the past 10 years, Dr. Sims has taught in urban and suburban schools, has been an activist on behalf of culturally and linguistically diverse students, has been elected to the New Britain Board of Education, has become an administrator, and has earned her doctorate. At the same time, she and her husband, D’Andre, have been raising two daughters who are now 12 and 14. Following are excerpts from her remarks.

Children of color do not necessarily need teachers of color in order to learn. They need caring adults who know their subject matter well, who deliver student-centered instruction, and whose number one priority is genuinely every child in their classroom. However, if those caring adults are only represented by white people — mostly white women — that is a huge problem. Diversity benefits all children and their impressionable minds.

Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims

Ethnic, racial, and linguistic diversity impacts perceptions of who is and who can be successful.  A diverse teacher force helps engage students and produces positive outcomes from grades, to graduation rates, to college attendance. But when the ratio of teachers of color and students of color is highly disproportionate, we risk low cultural capital leading high cultural diversity, and we reinforce and validate white, middle class values as dominant- systematically reflecting and producing inequities based on race, culture, and language.

The damage is deep, often subconscious, and influences all aspects of our lives. Just how skewed is the teacher-student diversity ratio? The U.S. Department of Education noted in a 2016 report that about 51 percent of public school students were white while 82 percent of teachers and 80 percent of principals were white.

So what can WE do to remedy this situation? While many factors influence diverse teacher recruitment and retention, simply put, the biggest barrier to diversity is systemic racism. Even with numerous national efforts to diversify the teaching profession — grants, programs, campaigns, etc. — we lose teachers of color at every point along the education pipeline.

Picture an inverted triangle: of those who enroll in post-secondary education, fewer enroll in education programs, even fewer than that complete their post-secondary education, and even when they enter the workforce, many teachers of color leave the profession in the first few years. That is especially likely for male teachers of color. The Center for American Progress noted in 2017 that teacher diversity numbers nationally have actually gotten worse since 2012.

However, we have to continue our efforts. We have to keep pushing even harder when the statistics look so grim. Every time we have new professionals of color enter the teaching workforce, we have to support them.

Our state is trying to help, too. A few days ago (Monday, May 7), Connecticut legislators unanimously enacted SB 455, An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention.

The bill changes teacher certification laws to make it easier, in certain areas, to obtain certification or cross endorsement. (Not by lowering the bar, but by adopting guidelines more similar to our neighboring states.)

It requires the State Department of Education to take some action to promote “minority” teacher recruitment and requires some district accountability in recruitment plans.

One of the guidelines that excites me most is the requirement related to teacher certification exams. Under this provision, should a candidate fail with a score within a certain threshold, they would be able to retake the test for free. Many of our potential teachers of color do not enter the workforce based on the gatekeeper exams and the cost-prohibitive nature of retaking them. How many of us know someone who couldn’t get their teaching certificate because they gave up after failing the math Praxis exam by three points?

So, this bill sounds promising. I’m thrilled that Connecticut legislators have taken action and pledged their commitment to increasing teacher diversity. I expect Gov. Dannel Malloy to sign the bill into law.

However, let’s stay vigilant. Unfortunately, we have not been able to legislate our way out of systemic racism. We have to continue to be advocates, demand that what is legislated is enforced, not shy away from difficult or uncomfortable conversations, and push for the next step in ensuring that our diversity efforts are successful, which to me means in-depth training of all existing teachers, administrators, and other education professionals.

We have to develop anti-racist institutions and leaders. That’s my charge to all teachers and administrators of any background who truly want to diversify. Do not just have people of color exist in white spaces; actually allow them a voice, value their culture, value diversity of thought, and promote integration rather than assimilation.

Keep up the good fight, and congratulations, Theodore!  You are already an excellent role model, and if things get tough, your Alma Exley clan has your back. I think I speak for all us in saying, holler if you need us!