“I am a teacher.”
My husband, Keith, would proclaim his occupation to whomever he met. It was his badge of honor, his passion, his calling. My husband taught math and language arts to 6th- and 7th- grade students with special needs. He loved those students as if they were his own. And they loved him back.
No matter where we went in the city, we often would hear a child shout “Mr. Barney!” before running up to my husband and giving him a big hug. Even the tween boys who were trying to be cool would acknowledge him and shake his hand to show their respect. Keith, who succumbed to a long-term illness in August, was more than their teacher and coach. He was their role model and, in some cases, a father figure.
As a Black male teacher, my husband was a rare find in a profession that is largely white and female.
According to the Louisiana Department of Education, 60% of state teachers are white females; only 5% are Black males. Nationally, Black males make up only 2% of the teacher workforce despite students of color representing more than half of the student population. In many states, students attend schools in districts that do not have a single teacher of color on staff.
While access to a racially and culturally diverse teacher workforce benefits all students, students of color particularly thrive in classrooms led by teachers who share their racial and cultural backgrounds, according to The Education Trust, a national nonprofit working to close gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families.
In Louisiana, 54.5% of students attending public school are of color; yet there are only 26.1% teachers of color working in those schools, a gap of 28.4%. Tensas Parish has the lowest gap at -3.4% with students of color at 87.8% and teachers of color at 91.2%. Claiborne Parish has the highest gap at 49.8% with students of color at 68.8% and teachers of color at 18.9%.
“Is your state prioritizing teacher diversity & equity?” The Education Trust posed that question in its recent report, which analyzed state policies and practices in five categories. According the report, Louisiana has work to do:
- Visible and Actionable Data – the state meets criteria
- Set Clear Goals – the state partially meets criteria
- Invest in Preparation Programs – the state does not meet criteria
- Intentional Recruitment – the state partially meets criteria
- Improve Retention – the state partially meets criteria
Looking at other states for comparison, Tennessee is the only state in the country to meet the criteria in all five categories. A number of states, such as Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Alabama, Florida, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, fail to meet the criteria in any of the categories.
In its “Believe to Achieve” plan released in January, the Louisiana Department of Education prioritized developing and retaining a diverse and highly effective educator workforce. It plans to focus on such areas as aspiring leadership development; improving educator compensation; intentionally partnering with teacher preparation providers; and providing professional development and new teacher induction.
All that sounds good, but I won’t believe this plan will work until the state allocates money to support it.
The state fails to invest in scholarship and/or loan forgiveness programs to attract students of color to teacher preparation programs; to invest in teacher preparation programs that produce high numbers of teachers of color to help them recruit and graduate even more teachers of color; and to provide funding for districts and/or educator preparation programs to increase the racial diversity of their teacher populations.
Once the teachers of color are hired, steps should be taken to retain them. Louisiana must create inclusive, equitable and supportive environments for teachers of color by investing in induction and mentoring programs, and in cultural competence and anti-bias professional learning for school and district leaders.
To be among the best, Louisiana must study the best. Virginia, for example, invested $1 million to increase pathways for students at Virginia’s two public HBCUs to become STEM teachers. Tennessee invests in the Minority Teaching Fellows Program, which awards $5,000 per year to students of color who pursue a teacher certification at an eligible Tennessee college or university. Delaware provides a four-year induction and mentoring program for new teachers.
My husband often spoke out about the lack of diversity in the teaching ranks. I am taking up the charge in his honor. While not among the worst states, Louisiana should make a long-term commitment with dedicated resources to staff its classrooms with more teachers of color.
Our students and teachers, especially those of color, deserve the effort.