Increasing teacher recruitment and diversity was the focus of “Seizing the Opportunity to Diversify New York’s Teacher Workforce,” a four-member panel discussion between educators, administrators and audience members at the 2019 conference of the NYS Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators in Albany in February.
Participants stressed the importance of students having diverse classroom teachers, something that all agreed inspires students of color to greater achievement.
“A more diverse teaching force enhances both our community and our students,” said Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman, who moderated the forum.
Establishing grow-your-own programs in high school to nurture potential educators, providing better mentoring and support for new teachers and increasing pay, were offered as possible solutions.
“We’re talking about a power structure,” said high school social studies teacher Jessica Elliott, a member of Syracuse Teachers Association. She noted that as a student, she only had one teacher of color throughout her school career. She entered the field to change that.
“Young people need to see a reflection of power that looks like them,” she said.
Richard Haynes, director of school support for the New York City Department of Education, agreed. He noted that male teachers of color, in particular, could have a significant impact on student success, sometimes being the difference between a student who decides to graduate from high school rather than drop out.
United Federation of Teachers vice president Sterling Roberson noted the importance of strong high school pipeline programs, explaining that in the 1980s, he entered the teaching field through a five-year, UFT-backed internship program.
“They knew there was a looming crisis so they created a pathway for young candidates like me to enter the field,” he said, adding that the program provided pay and mentoring support. “Many of those candidates are still in the profession.”
All the panelists considered teacher mentoring important not only to recruit diverse candidates into the field, but to keep them in the classroom. Elliott said that simple things like having another educator of color to talk to, or hang out with, can make a difference.
“If folks are uncomfortable because they’re the only black face in the building, it makes it hard,” she said.
Albany City School District superintendent Kaweeda Adams suggested compiling a directory of local resources such as churches, social venues and community organizations to help newcomers acclimate to the community. “We need to recognize that it’s not just about the job,” she said.
Low pay is a significant roadblock to recruitment and retention. Adams noted that some educators leave the field because they can’t afford to live in the community they teach in, or are lured away by higher paying jobs. “Starting people out with a competitive salary is a big challenge,” she said.
Despite the hurdles, Elliott said she remains committed to the teaching profession.
“It’s bigger than me,” she said. “It’s the idea of pulling those along with you as you climb. It’s a difficult profession, but when you love what you do, it’s easy.”