Back to School: A Survival Guide For Teachers Of Color

Image source via Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice

A recent study found that students of all racial backgrounds prefer teachers of color. Another found that Black educators are better able to manage their classrooms. Yet another showed that Black teachers are more effective at empowering marginalized students and teaching them to excel.

Clearly, representation in teaching matters. Teachers of color are an incredible asset to the education system and our impact on student outcomes is indisputable. And considering that 82% of public school teachers are white while the majority of students are now students of color, you would think the well-being and retention of teachers of color would be a high priority.

But you would be wrong.

Unfortunately, educators of color — especially Black and Latinx teachers — are 24% more likely to leave teaching than white educators. Between 2003 and 2011, 26,000 Black teachers left the public school system. Some left due to massive budget cuts, many of which closed schools with predominantly non-white students and laid off the teachers of color who worked there. Other Black teachers have left because of systemic racism and a lack of appreciation and basic professional respect from their white administrators and coworkers. Many other teachers of color burned out from poor working conditions. Still others, lacking the familial assets and generational economic privilege of white teachers, learned they couldn’t support their families on a teacher’s meager starting salary.

And now with white-supremacist-Trump-Train-torch-wielding Nazis and the KKK parading around the country, teachers are coping with an increase in racism and hate crimes in schools. We’re not only subjected to this racial violence, but must also deal with the added stress of processing it in workplaces surrounded by whiteness. This “invisible tax” on teachers of color also appoints us solely responsible for the academic AND emotional well-being of our minority students, including preparing them to deal with racial trauma and racism both inside and outside the classroom. The depth of responsibility we carry for our students of color means that we take on additional — and uncompensated — work within our schools and organizations. Because many of us are seen by our white peers as the “token minority” or “expert” on cultural diversity, we are expected to sacrifice our emotional and intellectual labor to lead inclusion initiatives, engage in anti-racism work, and be the primary support systems for students of color at school.

We are committed to our work, but the toll is high and often paid from fading reserves — literally and figuratively. For those of us who persevere despite these obstacles, how can we survive and help our students thrive in today’s toxic environment?

Welcome to our Starter Survival Kit for Teachers of Color.


1) Find your village

It really does take a village to raise a child. And although we are only one part of that support system, our impact as teachers is life changing. However, teachers of color often lack the support needed to thrive. When teaching is overwhelming, don’t wait until you reach the tipping point for support. It’s essential to recognize when we need help and find resources to provide what we can’t (both inside and outside the classroom). Here are some resources and opportunities to connect with and build a support network of other teachers like you:

For all teachers of color:

  • Check out these 5 action steps from Urban Education Mixtape — A Village of Support for Teachers of Color to help prevent burnout and cope with the added tolls on our time and emotional/intellectual labor. Enter your email address to keep up-to-date on their blog and follow UrbanEdMixTape on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.
  • Get activated by getting involved with EduColor, a POC-founded collective of educators that started as a support group for advocates of color and now seeks to elevate the voices of educators of color on equity and justice in education. Sign up for their newsletter and connect with other teachers and activists of color by following them on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Follow and/or join these other groups led by and for teachers of color to collectively support one another and help address issues of educational justice in their students’ lives:
  1. Badass Teachers of Color (BTC) on Facebook and Twitter (connect with other educators addressing race issues)
  2. National Association for Multicultural Education and Rethinking Schools Facebook groups (connect with other teachers of color)
  3. The People’s Education Movement on Facebook and Instagram (connect with a collective of educators countering the oppressiveness of miseducation)
  4. Education for Liberation Network on Facebook (connect with a community of educators who are working toward education as a tool of liberation for students, especially low-income youth and youth of color)

For Black teachers:

For Latinx teachers:

For Asian-American and Pacific Islander teachers:

  • Since Asian-American teachers are severely underrepresented among K-12 public school educators, consider joining the Philadelphia-based Asian American Educators which hosts networking and socializing events throughout the year.
  • Follow the Minnesota-based Coalition of Asian American Leaders, which is dedicated to advocacy for Asian students and teachers.
  • Sign up for The Association of Chinese Teachers’ mailing list to be a part of an organization dedicated to affirmative action, bilingual education, and equity.
  • Follow the Asian American and Pacific Islander Educators Network, a California-based networking group for AAPI teachers.
  • Become a member of the Filipino American Educators of Washington, a Seattle-based professional organization of Filipino American educators that empower, support, and promote each other’s growth, recruitment, development, advancement, and contributions in the schools and communities they serve. You can follow FAEW on Facebook and find their membership information here.

For Native/Indigenous teachers:

For non-native English speaker teachers (NNEST) and ESL teachers:

2) Create a climate that sustains both teachers and students of color

Lacking resources, minimal support, and cultural incompetency in majority-white spaces means that teaching takes more of an emotional, physical, and mental toll on educators of color. There is often a disconnect with other white educators regarding our experiences and ideas about education, especially when speaking about students of color. Consequently, we feel alienated and sometimes resentful of white colleagues when we are consistently required to be the “token minority” voice for our communities. It’s a fine balancing act for teachers of color: we want to show up for our students — especially students of color — while taking care of ourselves. Here are some tips to sustain that balance:

You can’t give from an empty cup so incorporate self-care into your daily routine:

  • Review our guide on how people of color can foster mental health and practice restorative healing here.
  • Check out these tips on Surviving & Resisting Hate: A Toolkit For People of Color from #ICRaceLab. Read how other educators of color are defining, processing, and attending to self-care on this chat transcript moderated by #EduColor. Remind yourself that teaching is an act of resistance with Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks’s collection of essays about “education as the practice of freedom.”
  • Take time to celebrate your victories in the classroom and your professional achievements. But don’t forget you have a life outside of school! Stay connected with family and friends and make time to pursue your non-work related passions.

Create a classroom environment and culture that is decolonized, anti-racist, and harassment-free (for yourself and students of color):

  1. If You Think Racism is Too Political For Your Classroom, Think About What Your Silence Says underscores the importance of engaging with your students and your own preparation.
  2. Read 7 Ways Teachers Can Respond to the Evil of Charlottesville, Starting Now and this guide from Colorlines to how to talk to kids of color about white supremacy.
  3. Access free resources to help you prepare classroom activities such as the Black Lives Matter at School Resource Toolkit for elementary and secondary level students.
  4. Teaching Tolerance’s searchable database by topic and grade level for lesson plans, free video teaching kits for K-12, and resources for discussions about police violence. For high school students, SPLC offers short videos about systemic racism and this lesson plan, Visualizing School Equity.

3) Seek financial support

It’s no secret that teachers are grossly underpaid and classroom resources are lacking. Teachers of color in particular are leaving at much higher rates than their white counterparts, in part, due to the financial hit. When school resources are scarce, get creative! Find non-traditional ways to receive funding and offset personal costs. Start with these suggestions:

  • Get funding for your ideas and teaching projects: For tech-savvy K-12 teachers interested in technology-based learning projects, stay up-to-date with this listing of grants and sign up for The Journal’s newsletter. Apply for an Educator Grant from Teaching Tolerance for equity projects at the K-12 school, district, or classroom level.
  • Get funding for your classroom: Here are a few listings of a wide variety of grants and funding resources: The Big List of Educational Grants and Resources from Edutopia; Classroom Enrichment and Student Achievement grants; and Teachers Count. Check out Reparations: Requests & Offerings, a Facebook page where people of color request financial assistance from white people. Create your own request for classroom funds on Donors Choose, a free site for teachers.
  • Tell us your needs: There are people who want to support teachers of color, so don’t be shy! If you have created a fundraiser for your classroom for school supplies, computers, or other things you need, drop us a line at SolidarityWOC@gmail.com and we’ll get the word out.

DONATIONS:

Support organizations and initiatives led by people of color who are dedicated to closing the teacher-student diversity gap and helping teachers of color thrive inside the classroom.

  • African American Teaching Fellows is an organization based in Charlottesville, Virginia. AATF supports the training, hiring, and retention of Black teachers in Charlottesville and the surrounding county. In this area of the country, the need for teachers who share a cultural understanding with African-American students is significant. There is only one African-American teacher for every 122 students, and Black students are three times more likely to drop out of school than white students. In response, AATF has created a program that provides financial assistance for aspiring teachers and ensures that fellows in the program make critical professional connections, work with mentors, and create a durable network of their peers. Follow AATF on Facebook and Twitter. Donate here.
  • Black Teacher Project believes that Black teachers have a unique understanding of American institutions and social norms. This understanding has the potential to benefit all students as “every student deserves a Black teacher.” This organization is recruits, develops, and sustains Black teachers through strategic recruitment, research and community discussion forums, as well as ongoing support through professional and social events. In addition to a fellowship program, BTP has a range of offerings for Black teachers including workshops, drop-in centers, and happy hour events. Follow BTP on Facebook and Twitter. Donate here.
  • Education for Liberation Network is POC-led coalition of teachers, activists, researchers, parents, and students who believe that education should teach young low-income students and students of color how to challenge the injustices of their communities and work toward liberation. They host the conference “Free Minds, Free People,” provide an interactive database of liberatory educational materials called EdLib Lab, and help local educators stay connected in their communities through regional workshops. Follow EdLiberation on Facebook. Donate here.

This is Action Call #18 in a series. Read past calls to action from Threads of Solidarity here.

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