Teach Plus PA Policy Fellows on Building an Educator Workforce That Mirrors and Affirms All Students
As our nation continues to become more diverse and current events remind us of the continued impact of racial inequities, how can policymakers and education leaders support schools in developing school cultures and a teacher workforce that mirror and affirm all students, especially students of color? The Expanding and Diversifying the Teacher Workforce working group in Teach Plus Pennsylvania’s policy fellowship is dedicated to identifying the reasons why more teachers of color are integral to classrooms and recommending policy solutions to recruit and retain more teachers of color while also addressing growing teacher shortages across Pennsylvania. In 2021, Pennsylvania State Senators introduced SB 99, which would grow and diversify the teaching profession through a multi-pronged approach. Teach Plus Policy Fellows contributed to the legislation, and the recommendations in the stories below are reflected in its provisions.
Dr. Maggie Grasty — Chester Upland School District
As a child growing up in Chester, Pennsylvania, Ms. Y was my only Black teacher. I felt a sense of pride knowing that she looked like me and had gone to college. She was a reminder that I could do it too. I might not be a teacher today if not for Ms. Y. Research shows that teachers of color can positively influence all learners in ways that are both academic and non-academic. Teachers of color have the ability to serve as role models for students of similar backgrounds, and their high performance expectations for these learners result in improved outcomes in areas such as test scores in reading and math, graduation rates and learners’ college aspirations. Research also supports the idea that students of color who are in classrooms with teachers of the same race experience conditions that can foster their academic success like a reduction in chronic absenteeism and decreased severity of discipline that Black students receive in the classroom.
Anna George — Duquesne City School Districts
In Pennsylvania, teachers of color comprise 6% of the workforce, while students of color comprise 36% of the student population. 50% of Pennsylvania’s public schools and 37% of all school districts have no teachers of color at all. When I shared this data with a white colleague in my predominantly Black school district, he explained why he was not surprised. I reflected on his comments, and realized that if our teachers see this disparity so clearly and know it’s a problem, our students see it as well.
Having teachers of color in the classroom is an essential approach to having successful students, whether they are a minority or not, but we do not have consistent data on the subject. Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) should annually report detailed demographic data for teacher candidates and teachers in the Commonwealth. This data will allow policymakers to better pinpoint where in the educator pipeline teachers of color are being lost and create incentives for teacher preparation programs, schools and districts, and policymakers to make investments and take action to improve recruitment and retention of teachers of color in their jurisdictions.
Kristen Haase — School District of Lancaster
As a teacher in a medium-sized urban district, where 88% of students are students of color but 89% of teachers are white, I recognize the urgency of my district attracting more teachers of color. As the mother of a white student in a wealthier district in Lancaster County, I also recognize the need for diversity in the teacher workforce in my home school district. While my son has a diverse friend group, he has never had a teacher of color or an administrator of color. I don’t just want teachers of color for students in my urban district; I also want them for my white son. All students need and deserve to have teachers of color in their classrooms.
Aaron A. Taylor — Cartwright Number 83 School District
As a music teacher, I have the privilege of teaching all 750 students in my school and seeing the huge ripple effects one teacher of color can have. A student recently told me with excitement in his eyes, “Mr. Taylor, I want to be just like you when I grow up!” As I reflect on my impact, I also think about the barriers that almost prevented me from becoming a teacher and that stand in the way of many other talented people of color becoming educators. The barrier that nearly prevented me from becoming a teacher was the Praxis, a series of tests that teachers need to take to receive their teaching license that can cost about $300. In my situation, I spent over $1,000 on retakes before I passed all parts.
Given that there is documented evidence of racial disparities in Praxis test passing rates and no correlation between Praxis scores and teaching success, this test serves as a barrier to teachers of color that should be, at a minimum, reexamined and scrutinized. Systematically, there are a wide variety of barriers that stand in the way of students of color becoming a teacher. I do not want the next generation of students to face the same challenges that I have. I want my students to do and be better than me, which means we need to remove barriers that stand in the way of them becoming life-changing educators.
Durrell Burns — Harrisburg School District
One barrier to recruiting more teachers of color is that many students cannot envision themselves as future educators or even imagine themselves attending college. Our ideology of education must shift from preparing students for the next grade to preparing students for the next phase of life. Schools should begin to promote teaching as a career to our own students, thus developing an early pipeline for teachers of color. There are a variety of “Grow Your Own” models that expose high school students to teaching through dual-enrollment opportunities, mentoring programs, and pre-apprenticeship models that give them the opportunity to explore education while earning compensation and/or college credit. Imagine the impact it could have on students to see a teaching force that mirrors their own identities and cultures. By training young students and preparing them to become educators, we can increase the diversity within our teaching force.
Yazmin Dalsimer — Catalyst Academy Charter School
The private high school I attended did an excellent job preparing me for rigorous academic content. Unfortunately, the social pressures and lack of diverse teachers impacted my development negatively. I remember leaving that place with the lowest amounts of confidence I’ve ever felt, feeling little hope for aspirational dreams. But once in college, I had four Latino professors, all from different fields. When I graduated from college, not only did I have more confidence, I was hopeful about the world. In high school, I didn’t think people “like me” contributed much to society. After college, I realized, we made this world! We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us! Realizations like this may be controversial, but they engender hope in students. The pandemic has highlighted many cracks in our education system. Specifically, the importance of teacher diversity and the lack of teacher diversity stand out. The benefits of having teachers of color have long been documented and yet only 6% of teachers in Pennsylvania are persons of color. We cannot leave them alone, holding the only umbrella. We need to support their efforts and growth.
Lisa Richardson — Upper Darby School District
Over the past few years, many school districts across the country have begun an equity journey to diversify their teaching workforces, remove barriers to education, and address racial inequities within their systems. Many districts have appointed or hired administrators to lead the district’s diversity efforts. Some have even created whole departments focused on developing equity goals and plans, creating school-level equity teams, evaluating student population and achievement data, and recruiting and retaining a more diverse staff. However, despite scattered local efforts, many states, including Pennsylvania, do not have anyone within their state department of education tasked with leading the work of diversifying the educator workforce and prioritizing equity across PK-16 education. This raises the question: Who’s holding the umbrella? Even with the diverse needs of Pennsylvania’s students, someone needs to model, oversee, support, and evaluate the equity work being done by individual schools and districts.