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SXSWEdu: Black Teacher Sustainability Session

Kelli Brown


A few weeks ago one of the Imaginarium’s directors, Margaret McCormick asked me, “Why don’t Black people become teachers anymore?” It was a good question,  one I had never quite given thought too.  I was personally taught by all Black Teachers until middle school (which not coincidentally, was the first time I experienced micro aggression) so I realize how important having Black teachers for Black students are, and how it can enhance a student’s self-esteem and expectations for themselves. However, as a Black person who knows full well the need, I never thought to examine  the idea of why Blacks aren’t becoming and staying teachers anymore.   

On Monday during  the latter half of the day I attend the SXSWEdu's,  Black Teacher Sustainability Session. This session, led by Micia Mosely, CEO of the  Black Teacher Project, talked about how many schools and districts  want to diversify their teaching force, and how in many cities recruitment efforts have led to an increase in Black people entering the profession. Unfortunately, Black teachers are leaving at a higher rate than any other demographic. This session highlighted  what Black teachers can do to sustain themselves and  shift the environments they teach in. Further,  it detailed as a leader of a Black teacher or administrator, how you can make sure to keep your dynamic Black professionals. 

Why Don't Black People Become Teachers?
1. Impact of Brown vs. Board of Education
2. De-professionalization of teaching
3. Push-out of Black Teachers

What Can You Do To Sustain Your Black Teachers?
1. Don’t tokenize your Black staff
2. Be aware of the invisible tax on teachers of color, and if you unknowingly encourage it
3. Create culturally responsive professional development
4. District Self Care Workshops
5. Do your own racial justice work (reflection and action)
6. Listen, understand and support your Black Teachers especially when they are challenged
7. Use your power and position to shift mindsets and practices of non-Black educators
8. Lift up the expertise of Black Teachers in professional development and encourage them to present at conferences
9. Unpack the implicit bias in hiring and promotional practices
10. Clear a path forward in navigating the system (clarity, testing, support- financial and otherwise)
11. Talk about race and racism with and about adults (event if there are no Black people present)

Though the crowd was mixed it consisted of mostly Black and Hispanic teachers. I found this saddening, especially since we have so many urban districts who say they are committed to creating diverse staff, yet still experience a great deal of turnover of  Black teachers and are seemingly baffled as to why.   The session was a quick 20 minutes that needed to be at least an hour. Some participants even complained to organizers  that the session was unfairly short. While I agree,  I also know  that  as a presenter you choose the format of your session.  Knowing  that, I wonder, why did  the Black Teacher Project feel their session only needed to be 20 min?  Did they think the only way for their session to be chosen was if it was short? Did they receive feedback from organizers stating that their session needed to be shorter?   Because of social conditioning, people of color (and in some cases women) devalue our presence, message or worth just to get a foot in the door. Is that what happened here?

This session was invaluable, and I encourage you to watch the video below and engage with The Black Teacher Project, especially if you have teachers or administrators of color on staff.  We have a tendency to think that the work of a Black Teacher or principal is equal to their white counter parts.  What I learned here is that the invisible tax is a heavy weight emotionally, and we are not compensated for it  financially.  Even more so when your leadership doesn't know it exists.  With the help of one of our Growth Through Connections and overall rock star  DPS teachers, Julia Torres  (pictured left in the photo above) Miacia has agreed to come to Denver.  I will be doing a podcast with her  and hopefully can deliver Micia’s message to HR and other members of DPS senior leadership to make sure that we are not just recruiting Black professionals, but we are making sure they stay and thrive.