School culture and honest discussions about race are key to retaining black teachers

In a city where 80% of students are black and Hispanic, only 24.5% of teachers in Philadelphia are black and about 5% are Latino. Less than 5% of teachers are black men.

While Superintendent William Hite has said he wants to have 1,000 black teachers in the district by 2025, a new national report says schools and districts need to make significant changes to recruit and retain teachers of color.

The report, from the Center for Black Educator Development and Teach Plus, a nonprofit that works to build teacher leaders around equity issues, says districts need to reassess the curriculum, have honest discussions about race and race issues in schools and ensuring that civic leaders and community groups are committed to diversifying the teacher pool.

“When teachers of color thrive, so do students,” said Lindsay Sobel, interim CEO of Teach Plus.

Numerous studies have shown that black students are more likely to graduate from high school if they have at least one black K-8 teacher.

Currently, about 350 of the district’s 8,000 teachers are black men, down from 2001, when about a third of the city’s teachers were black. The percentage of black teachers in the city has plateaued in recent years at just under a quarter. That’s better than the country as a whole, and far better than Pennsylvania, where less than 6% of all teachers are black.

As part of its anti-racism goals and safeguards, the Philadelphia Board of Education wants to increase teacher diversity.

The district has created several residency and teacher scholarship programs for people of color. It works to help school paraprofessionals, many of whom are from the community, earn teaching credentials, said Sharif El-Mekki, founder and executive director of the Center for Black Educator Development and former teacher and principal. of Philadelphia. A teacher academy at Science Leadership Academy-Beeber helps high school students pursue careers in education.

The district also recently established a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office focused on eradicating racist practices and changing policies to do so.

Several black teachers in Philadelphia said they believe conditions in the city’s schools have improved in recent years, but more needs to be done.

“It’s not just about recruiting black teachers, it’s about creating a school culture that celebrates and affirms black identity,” said Abigail Henry, social studies professor at Shoemaker Mastery Charter School. She was one of 105 teachers nationwide who participated in a focus group that formed the basis of many of the report’s recommendations.

Henry is also among three city teachers who have won a grant to incorporate The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which reframes American history around slavery, into a curriculum unit.

“Schools not only need black teachers, but also an anti-racist curriculum that doesn’t sugarcoat our history,” Henry said. At the same time, “conversations about race and racism should be happening in every classroom.” In 2005, the Philadelphia school district became the first major city to require students to take an African American history course to graduate.

Isaac Dunn, who teaches history at Edison High School, said he only has two black teachers in South Jersey. is historically castigated,” he said.

He says it’s important not only to have more educators who reflect the students they teach, but also to reframe pedagogy to bring “education and racial justice together and have a community of educators and policies to support you”.

Sam Reed, a history and African-American English teacher at the U School, taught in Philadelphia for 24 years. He said groups of teachers, including the Caucus of Working Educators, have already organized meetings, discussions, events and actions around promoting anti-racism in schools and “inciting people of color”.

District leadership, he said, “should look at that work, replicate the things that are successful, and go from there.”

Carol C. Reed