A black teacher wearing a blue shirt works with a group of students in a yellow classroom.

This post is an op-ed from Patrice of Tales of Patty Pepper.

Imagine completing 12 years of school and not having a Black teacher or principal once? Yet, for many Black students, this is their everyday reality. It might be pretty shocking for some to fathom, especially considering that Black students make up 15% of our nation’s students. However, this is the norm for many Black students.  I’m now in my 18th year as an educator, and I wonder if I’m the only Black educator my current and previous students have ever had. During my own time as a student, I can only recall one time I had a Black teacher, and that is why I made it a point to attend an HBCU (a Historically Black College or University) during my undergraduate studies.

Black educators matter and are underrepresented in schools across the country. Failure to support them in our school systems can cause many to leave altogether. In fact, according to the National Teacher and Principal Survey, statistics show that Black teachers make up 7 percent of all teachers in the U.S., even though a significant portion of the student population are students of color.

So, what can be done in your school building to support Black teachers? There are several approaches to address this ongoing issue that school leaders can implement and practice to support their Black colleagues better. In addition, education leaders can partner with black communities to highlight black voices, include student assets, drive innovation, and drive inclusivity in education. 

4 Strategies to Support the Black Teachers in Your School

Strategy 1: Acknowledge the Role of Racism

Supporting Black educators requires a mind-shift and an acknowledgment of the systemic racism that’s shaped America for centuries. Although America has seen seasons of change, we still have a long way to go on the road to reform. One of the necessary steps school leaders must take to better support Black teachers is to acknowledge how racism can shape their experience in education. A new study published in Educational Researcher found that Black teachers’ experiences of racism played a significant role in why they wanted to leave the profession. 

Administrators must acknowledge this divide and create opportunities for equality and diversity to create a balanced workplace. Such examples include:

  • Sustaining Black teacher and student voices in decision-making
  • Establishing Black teacher and student leadership roles
  • Collaborating with out-of-school organizations

Strategy 2: Increase Black Representation in School Curriculum

Black educators repeatedly advocate that Black stories should be incorporated throughout the school year, not just during Black History Month. Many Black educators have grown weary of telling the same levels of slavery, inequality, and injustices that have permanently scarred us as a people. For student voice opportunities to take root across a school and district, they require school and district leadership (Mitra, 2009). 

School administrators can hold professional development in their schools and empower teachers with access to resources. One such resource is the NMAAHC Kids: Classroom Connections, which is designed for K-2 and is led by a National African American Museum educator. Each 45-minute session includes engaging conversations about history and objects from the Museum collection, interactive story time, and an art project. In addition, the NAACP is committed to supporting the next generation of civil rights leaders through financial scholarship and career engagement, career opportunities, youth programs, and internships. Resources like these can help teachers go beyond teaching about the contributions of well-known figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges. 

FURTHER READING: Black Americans You May Not Teach About in School but Should

Strategy 3: Spark Conversations About Personal Biases

Implicit, unconscious biases are the attitudes that a person holds towards another individual. Many people are unaware of their own biases and how they can affect their workplace viewpoints. The first step in addressing unconscious bias is examining your personal beliefs, values, attitudes, and perceptions. Some studies report that children begin to show implicit bias at a young age. Over time, the ideas and images become a part of our perspectives and influence us even when we do not realize it. If left unchecked, perceptions around racism, specifically towards Black people, can manifest into verbal or nonverbal communication, body language, and everyday interactions. 

School superintendents and administrators who conduct equity audits amongst the staff can promote an environment of change and enhance the buy-in of everyone. According to Joseph Corazzini, the assistant superintendent of equity, diversity, and community development at Framingham Public Schools, conducting an equity audit requires administrators to take an honest look at the experiences of the district’s students, staff, and community members. “Schools struggle because they’re so afraid of bad publicity that they minimize the opportunities for outside entities and partners to come into the analysis and provide perspective,” Corazzini says. “Schools have to stop seeing families and outside entities as barriers to growth, and see them as allies.” 

While there is no set formula or standard for conducting equity audits in schools, implementing family and community group interactions that spark equity opportunities can help better aid school administrators in navigating systemic racism and microaggressions that many Black educators face.

Strategy 4: Share the Burden of Building for Diversity 

Many Black educators are often appointed as the official liaison for all things “Black,” like the latest slang, trends with music, and Black History Month ideas. To ensure that the labor burden is more equitably distributed in diversity education, administrators should seek to enhance communication between all educators employed at their institutions. Effective communication between people of different cultures, including other religious groups or people of different national origins, require practice and delegation in smaller group settings during professional development exercises. 

In conclusion, Black educators matter and want to be seen, heard, and counted. Administrators who actively include their Black educators and want to see change, incorporate equity and examine their own biases will set the standard. Administrators can shift the mindset and culture of schools, providing Black educators with the support they need. Through these efforts, administrators can also support racial equity and unity for Black educators and their communities. 

About Patrice R. Jenkins (M. Ed, MLS) from Tales of Patty Pepper

Patrice R. Jenkins (M. Ed, MLS) has been an educator for over 17 years and has taught every grade level from K-8th. She helps elementary teachers find creative ways to enhance their classroom lessons by providing classroom tech tips, organization skills, and reading resources. She also works with brands to bring awareness to resources that may help educators enhance their classroom.