Spotlight on Teacher Diversity

“Now would be the time, especially with everything going on in this country, to recruit Black teachers into teacher preparation programs.”—Rachel Tillman, Teacher, Rochester Academy Charter School

We agree, and as we highlighted in our Spotlight on Teacher Diversity blog series—districts, states and education support agencies must prioritize teacher diversity as they focus on an academic recovery that benefits all students. That’s because a diverse teacher workforce, specifically assignment to Black teachers, is linked to increases in academic success and social and emotional development for all students, especially students of color. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on teachers, and teachers of color especially. An August 2020 nationwide survey of teachers conducted by the National Education Association (NEA) showed that 28 percent of all teachers and an astounding 43 percent of Black teachers say they’re more likely to retire early because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And since teachers of color made up only about 18 percent of the teaching workforce prior to the pandemic, that level of attrition will have a significant impact at a time when students need them the most.

We recently released Diverse Perspectives, a report that highlights experiences in the early stages of the teaching profession in Rochester, NY based on first-hand accounts of teachers and teacher candidates of color as well as parents of color. The report summarizes key insights from our conversations with them and concludes with their suggestions to improve the diversity of the pipeline. Their three main recommendations are:

  • First, to better promote the teaching profession to middle and high school students before they make career decisions, 
  • Second, to provide advising and financial support to help teacher candidates get to and through teacher preparation programs and licensure, and 
  • Third, to strengthen mentorship and relationship-building for prospective and early-career teachers to ensure they have a support network.

“It’s not necessarily [a teacher’s] job to be a mom or a social worker, but when you’re part of a community for people, you do something that needs to be done for the community,” one parent shared. “I think that’s a valued piece that is missing—a base of teachers that when children see them, they see themselves and feel understood.” 

This work, in partnership with the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, is just one component of a cross-sector Rochester Citywide Teacher Pipeline strategy that focuses on teacher recruitment, the student teaching clinical experience, new teacher excellence and teacher diversity. What we’re experiencing in Rochester is similar to what we’ve learned in cities and states we’ve worked in across the country, which is that any serious strategy that focuses on equity for students of color must include teachers of color, but especially Black teachers, as an essential component.

Read the full Diverse Perspectives report here, and more about Education First’s focus on educator diversity here.