NAACP San Diego calls for more Black teachers

The need for more Black educators is well-established, and the challenge is not just developing and recruiting more of them, but ensuring they stay at schools once they’re hired, experts say.

Multiple panelists spoke about the issue of recruiting and retaining more Black teachers during an NAACP San Diego forum Monday.

The event was the first of a two-part symposium about education. The second part, about the need for support to increase Black parent involvement in schools, will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Black educators have long been underrepresented in schools countywide and nationwide. Just 2 percent of San Diego County’s public school teachers for which racial data are available are African-American, according to state data from 2018-2019, the last year for which data is available.

Having a Black teacher is important for students of all races, experts say, but studies have suggested concrete benefits especially for Black students.

Studies have found that when a Black student has at least one Black teacher, it increases their chances of graduating and going to college and decreases their chances of dropping out of school. One potential reason for that is Black teachers are more likely than White teachers to believe Black students can graduate and complete college, a similar study found.

There are many reasons why there are few Black teachers and why many leave their jobs.

Joe Fulcher, Sweetwater Union High School District’s outgoing assistant superintendent for equity, culture and support services, said during the forum that there are three common reasons why Black teachers leave the profession: they feel under-appreciated, they are micro-managed, or they lack support from others in their school or district.

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For example, Black teachers often get pushback from parents and their own administrators when they try teaching certain aspects of Black history, such as the Black Panthers, said Lisa Kelly, a middle school teacher and fellow with the Black Teacher Project, an Oakland organization that works to develop and support Black educators.

In many cases, Black teachers are one of the few — or only — Black educators at their school, so it can be easy for them to feel isolated, panelists said.

“The teachers in my district, they feel isolated and alone,” Fulcher said. “They often feel unwelcome, and to address that, we gave them a number of opportunities to talk.”

Fulcher said he and other administrators visited schools to meet with teachers and listen to their thoughts and concerns, then they developed an action plan to address them. He didn’t provide details of the action plan.

“We have to cultivate this type of environment in our districts and not be afraid to take a chance on teachers, Black teachers,” Fulcher said. “Let’s be disruptive and also let’s be mindful of the hard work our Black educators are doing and what they’re up against on a day-to-day basis.”

To increase the number of Black educators, Micia Mosely, founder and director of the Oakland-based Black Teacher Project, suggested that schools pay students to tutor in the summer. That program could help start a teacher pipeline within the district.

She also suggested districts partner with higher education institutions to develop more Black teachers. Like Fulcher, she suggested schools should talk with their existing Black educators and ask them what support they need.

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