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9 Things That Matter When Hiring Black Teachers

By: Jessica Anderson on October 28th, 2020

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9 Things That Matter When Hiring Black Teachers

Equity  |  Teacher Retention  |  School Leadership

This year has exacerbated the national crisis of staffing in schools. Attrition was already a looming challenge, but with all of the changes in education this year alone teachers are leaving schools and the profession en masse. That, combined with the racial reckoning taking place this year has prompted many leaders to reflect on their hiring processes and look for ways to recruit more Black teachers. If you are looking to diversify your teacher workforce or are assessing your hiring process, here are 9 things you must consider.

9. Mission Matters 

When taking a look at the history of Black teachers in the United States, one thing becomes clear; Black teachers have consistently been involved in efforts for political and social change in and for their communities. During Reconstruction, Black teachers laid the foundation for public education throughout the South. In the early 20th century, they represented a critical mass in organizations like the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), and National Urban League. Throughout the Great Migration, Black educators leveraged their positions to create opportunities for Black youth in major cities throughout the North like Chicago, Detroit, and Harlem. Teaching was never simply a career for Black educators. It was part of a larger social and political mission.

That mission still rings true today. Black educators view themselves as agents of change. If school and district leaders seek to connect with and hire Black teachers, they must appeal to the motivations of Black educators through both word and action. How do you communicate your mission and values as a school or district? How do you express your commitment to advancing the learning and experiences of Black students? Students of color? How do you work with community stakeholders to ensure that Black students and other students of color are supported inside and outside of the classroom? Your mission is an extension of your values. How do you demonstrate that your district values Black students, Black communities, and Black educators? When there is alignment around a mission of social change and positive impact in Black communities, Black teachers can then see themselves operating at their fullest capacity within your school.

8. Rhetoric Matters 

Black educators are certainly looking for districts to express their commitment to Black students and communities, but they are also observing in what context Black students are mentioned. The rhetorical strategies you use to describe the state or needs of Black students can play a vital role in shaping the perceptions Black educators have for your district. In a research study conducted by Teach Plus, researchers examined many of the challenges Black & Brown teachers face in the workplace. One trend that emerged was deficit-thinking around Black students and their intellectual capacity. For Black teachers, the more that colleagues and school leaders spoke of Black students in the context of underperformance, the more they saw a connection to a larger questioning of Black genius. Ashley Griffen, one of the researchers behind the study shared, "What's unique for teachers of color is that narratives in schools are often about Black and Brown children being low-performing. We fail in our conversations to promote Black genius, the idea that here is a child who's just waiting to be cultivated. It's created a culture where the assumption is that the little Brown child who comes to class is an underachiever. Hearing that day in and day out is particularly powerful for teachers of color… Children see themselves in their teachers, but teachers also see themselves in their students. ... If the narrative is anti-Black genius, anti-success for children, we take on that negative stereotype in a unique way." 

This is something that impacts both recruitment and retention efforts in that Black teachers will be looking at how matters of race are discussed throughout the hiring process. They will be observing how leadership and faculty discuss the needs and circumstances of students of color. Does the language being used at your school reflect deficit thinking? If a teacher does not pick up on this during the hiring process, it won’t be long before they notice it once hired. The rhetoric we use to discuss students of color not only impacts students - it impacts the teachers who look like them.

The rhetoric we use to discuss students of color not only impacts students - it impacts the teachers who look like them.

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7. Location Matters

It’s no surprise that we have a national shortage of teachers. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs is falling. Two-thirds of teachers who leave are leaving for reasons other than retirement, and 40% of teachers leave the profession in their first 5 years. Regardless of race, teachers are hard to find and hard to keep. But when accounting for race, the numbers of Black teachers has been staggeringly low for a long time. 

When Brown v. Board passed in 1954, Black teachers & staff experienced massive layoffs. Black-only schools were closed down across the nation, and white-led schools and districts did not seek to hire Black teachers for their newly integrated classrooms. Most white superintendents in the south were unwilling to put Black educators in positions of authority over white teachers or students. At the time of Brown v. Board, there were 82,000 Black teachers. After the ruling, more than 38,000 Black teachers and administrators in 17 southern states lost their jobs. The following decade only continued in the same downward trend. A generation of Black educators and staff were pushed out of education when their expertise was sorely needed. Now, decades later, the percentage of Black teachers remains stubbornly low, hovering around 7% today

With numbers so low nationwide, the percentage of Black teachers within a given state is equally low, if not lower. Take my home state of Illinois, for example, where 5.9% of teachers are Black. If districts are looking to hire Black teachers and focus their efforts only on teachers from within their respective states, the resulting applicant pool will be even smaller. Districts must make an effort to plan for and market to Black educators outside of their state in order to increase the number of Black applicants in the pool. Do you have a relocation stipend? Do you post to job boards and platforms with regional or national appeal? Do you avoid criteria that prioritize in-state candidates? Do you incorporate language in your job postings that encourage out-of-state candidates to apply?  

6. Money Matters

It goes without saying that teachers in the United States are grossly underpaid. But the history of wealth distribution in this country also contextualizes the career choices and supports provided to Black professionals. Black educators are no exception. 

A dense web of systems and institutional practices have prevented Black communities from accessing capital and intergenerational wealth and consequently, the racial wealth gap persists today. In 2016, the net worth of a typical white family was nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family, and the ramifications for this racial wealth gap are far-reaching. 

It informs what kinds of career choices Black professionals feel that they have. In order to build wealth for both themselves and their families, Black professionals often look to other career fields outside of education. For those that do choose to teach, they are keenly aware of the kinds of supports their colleagues have. In the Education Trust report, “If You Listen, We Will Stay: Why Teachers of Color Leave and How to Disrupt Teacher Turnover,” Black and Brown teachers shared how they are more likely to contend with financial struggles than their white peers since they're less likely to have family assets for support. In one of several focus groups conducted, a teacher shared “The difference… is generational wealth. [As a new teacher,] I barely made $35,000 before taxes. This as a first-generation college student was not enough to live on especially while also helping my family, which many people of color have to do. Whereas a lot of my friends who are white pocketed salaried money because they were able to get help from parents.” Familial support and intergenerational wealth afford many white teachers with privilege that their Black colleagues often do not have. 

Consequently, compensation packages are not just tied to personal comforts; they are connected to history, familial, and communal obligations for Black teachers. How can you leverage your resources to offer as competitive a package as possible? Do you have a transparent and equitable raise and promotion process? Do you outline this process to your applicants? Do you offer funds for professional development, relocation incentives, or other resources relevant to your school or district (e.g. housing for boarding schools)? Are you transparent about these offerings as candidates move through the hiring process? 

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5. Relationships Matter 

In a Gallup Report on How Millennials Like to Live & Work (millennials being defined as those being born between 1980 and 1996), researchers found that the trends for where millennials look for work and what they look for out of work are quite different compared to previous generations. When thinking about how to attract candidates where they are, millennials are not as preoccupied with news media, career fairs, or other types of recruiting events compared to Gen Xers or Baby Boomers. They look to the internet and referrals.

Relationships are still important. They are even more important now to millennials. 75% of millennials say they rely heavily on referrals from family and friends. 74% of millennials say they prioritize referrals from current employees within an organization. If your current staff is predominantly white and does not have relationships with Black educators or Black communities it means that one of the key avenues for promotion is lost to Black candidates. Relationship-building with Black educators must then become a high priority for the recruitment and leadership team. What is your HR/recruitment team currently doing to foster those relationships? 

One of the ideas that usually comes to mind is developing relationships with Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU). Let’s take a moment to talk about that. Six of the top ten producers of African American baccalaureates in education are HBCUs, with Alabama State University at number one. Part of the challenge of recruiting from HBCUs is that you are trying to entice Black teachers to join a district that may be socially isolating to them. One recruiter in an interview with The Education Trust talked about his experiences quite bluntly saying, “There’ve been efforts in my area to go down and recruit from HBCUs, but I think that’s really weird. Because — how do I word this? — why are you going to fly down to the South and bring folks to lily-white Washington and then not provide them the supports they need? They feel culturally isolated.” That is not to say it is impossible, but it speaks to the challenges that come with both recruitment and retention efforts. Black educators would help you diversify your school but at what cost to them? 

One way to try to combat social isolation for Black educators would be to do a cluster hire for Black faculty. Set an intention to hire multiple Black teachers simultaneously and communicate these efforts to applicants. This would foster a sense of partnership and connection with fellow Black teachers in similar circumstances. This is a strategy I personally have helped support at the higher education level, but it proves effective in getting buy-in from multiple Black teachers when considering a position. For them, a sense of community upon arrival is important; through a cluster hire, they know they won’t be completely alone. 

Another way to foster those relationships is through strategic partnerships. Organizations like Black Teacher Project, The National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE), United Negro College Fund, and Black Greek Letter Organizations all have track records of supporting the experiences and advancement of Black teachers and learners. You could also look to initiatives, programs, or conferences like the National Center for Teacher Residencies’ Black Educator Initiative, the National Association of Independent Schools annual People of Color Conference (NAIS), or the Institute For Teachers Of Color Committed To Racial Justice. 

4. Marketing Matters

Relationships may outrank digital presence, but digital presence still matters. That same Gallup report found that 62% of millennials rely on general online searches for finding job opportunities. And similar percentages rely heavily on digital networking platforms. 

The Harvard Business Review released a report at the end of 2019 outlining “A Data-Driven Approach to Hiring More Diverse Talent”. In the report, they shared how across industries many organizations face obstacles to diversifying their applicant pool due to lack of awareness and access to industry contacts. They also discovered that when organizations make an explicit and public commitment to hiring diverse talent, willingness to apply to future opportunities increases significantly. In one example, willingness went from 46% to 64%. The report goes on to suggest that strong approaches to diversity recruitment initiatives have 3 things in common, and amongst the three was awareness. Marketing is the center of that awareness. When you combine strategic marketing action plans with a mission statement expressing a commitment to equity and justice you’re addressing multiple factors that play into the lack of teacher diversity. 

When you set out to hire, how do you advertise the position? Is there a plan of action? If there is no conversation about your marketing strategy, start having one. Be sure to include in your marketing plan: 

  • A plan to post on job boards that appeal to or focus exclusively on Black professionals
  • Earmarked funds for relevant boards that charge a fee
  • Free and paid promotion on relevant social networking platforms
  • The incorporation of language celebrating diverse talent as well as cultural competencies that you seek from candidates 

You’ll also want to look at Search Engine Optimization (SEO) prior to the hiring process. Since 62% of millennials rely on general Google searches to find job opportunities, you will want to make sure that your school or district will be on the first page of their search results rather than the 10th. 

For social media, how are you leveraging custom audiences to reach Black educators through paid promotion? Marketing is the sleeping giant in your efforts. Be sure to look at your marketing before and during your hiring process. 

3. Criteria Matter

Implicit bias can show up in many components of the hiring process. One of the most common places for bias to appear is through the criteria used to assess candidates. When looking at your process for evaluating candidates, it is important to remove any vague criteria and encourage specific and objective language. 

The National Center for Teacher Residencies’ Black Educators Initiative does a great job of this. The initiative is a project aimed to recruit, develop, and retain 750 new Black teachers within their network of teacher-preparation programs. They support residency-program leaders in developing new strategies to confront the issues most likely to hold Black educators back. Part of their work involves consistently setting “hard goals around recruiting from the communities they serve”. They do this by basing their selection on factors that best correlate with effective teaching and eliminating vague criteria that introduce bias into the selection process. This includes ratings concerning a candidate’s “resilience”, “organization”, or “fit”.  

When evaluating teacher and staff candidates, what criteria do you use?

If you want a resource for reflecting on interview bias within your team you can use this podcast transcript from the University of Florida’s Training & Organizational Development Office focused on the kinds of biases that appear in interviews. 

2. Communication Matters 

How you communicate throughout the hiring process is just as important as what you communicate to candidates. High touch recruitment strategies that provide multiple points of interaction keep applicants engaged and communicate to them that their presence matters in the applicant pool. 

As you reach out to candidates, be sure to share information about the community supports offered within your school or district (i.e. affinity groups, mentorship, professional development, and pipeline programs for teachers of color). 

1. Accountability Matters 

These efforts will be in vain if there are no checks and balances for those steering the process. The Harvard Business Review’s report on “A Data-Driven Approach to Hiring More Diverse Talent” found that strong approaches to diversity recruitment initiatives all have systems of accountability. Build-in an accountability measure for each of these steps of the hiring process. Work in pairs. Foster conversation before proceeding. Build into your hiring process collaboration and transparency so that those leading the search can: 

  • hold each other accountable for meeting the objectives of the search
  • effectively incorporate these new components into the hiring process, and 
  • address personal biases as you evaluate candidates. 

Make these forms of accountability common practice for every hire. 

In the end, your hiring process is an opportunity to communicate your values and how much Black expertise is valued. If you want to learn more about ways that you can strengthen your hiring process to recruit teachers of color, check out the video below!

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About Jessica Anderson

Jessica Anderson is an equity strategist, creative entrepreneur, and Marketing Project Manager at Education Elements. Prior to joining Education Elements Jessica has worked with non-profits, academic institutions, and creative brands to promote equity and social justice with an imaginative approach. A Truman Scholar, Jessica holds a B.A. in African & African American studies from Stanford University with a dual focus in education policy & identity, diversity and aesthetics. She has spent time teaching at the middle and high school level in South Africa and has worked with organizations like the Children's Defense Fund, Mikva Challenge and The Resilience Project to advocate for Black and Brown children and innovate education. When she is not writing and working toward educational equity, you can find her singing about social justice under the alias “Jessica Lá Rel”. You can find more about her work at jessicalarel.com.

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