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Attracting, recruiting and retaining teachers of color

Why would I want to be a teacher?

By Daryl F. Camp | September | October 2019
As educators, we are responsible for providing the best conditions for learning in our respective environments. Part of that responsibility is ensuring that educators in our schools can appreciate the diversity of our students. Many school districts have discussed the importance of having a diverse workforce in order to better serve students’ academic and social needs. These districts consistently explore strategic approaches to attracting, recruiting and retaining teachers of color. While there is a general acknowledgment in some school districts that having teachers of color serving students is a value-added proposition, personnel in many school districts could benefit from further exploration of and response to various challenges with hiring and keeping a more ethnically diverse workforce. District and school personnel should consider why a teacher of color would want to be employed in their district/school and, just as important, why a teacher would want to remain in their district/school. This article is intended to explore some of the reasons why teachers of color, and particularly African and Latinx American teachers, may enter the teaching profession, as well as some of the challenges associated with staying in the profession. Note: Latinx is the gender-neutral alternative to Latino, Latina and even Latin@. Used by scholars, activists and an increasing number of journalists, Latinx is quickly gaining popularity among the general public. It’s part of a “linguistic revolution” that aims to move beyond gender binaries and is inclusive of the intersecting identities of Latin American descendants. In addition to men and women from all racial backgrounds, Latinx also makes room for people who are trans, queer, agender, non binary, gender/nonconforming or gender fluid (Huffington Post). Macro conditions impacting teacher recruitment and retention  When it comes to recruiting and retaining teachers, there are certain macro conditions that impact the decision of all teachers regardless of ethnicity or race. These macro conditions need to be considered when discussing strategies to diversify the teacher workforce. The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has shared several strategies that districts are utilizing in order to recruit or retain teachers. The strategies involve offering financial incentives, targeted recruitment and outreach, and workplace support. It’s no secret that compensation impacts the career decisions of numerous professionals, including teachers. Money matters. Boosting the salaries of teachers will undoubtedly attract more college students and professionals into the teaching profession. Unfortunately, for many school districts, an increase in teacher compensation will need to include a reduction in other areas in order to maintain fiscal solvency. Teachers in high-cost areas in California should be able to easily live in the city in which they work. In order to assist teachers, some districts have boosted entry-level salaries and offered incentives to teach in high need areas. Some school districts offer signing and retention bonuses and, at times, the state has offered various loan forgiveness incentives. Recently, many school districts have explored or actualized various housing assistance programs for teachers. Potential educators, of all ethnicities and races, are likely to consider the return on investment when deciding whether to pursue a teaching credential. Raising teacher pay will undoubtedly attract more college graduates into the teaching profession. In the competitive market for finding qualified teachers, district and site personnel are paying a great deal of attention to the recruitment of teachers. In order to attract experienced teachers, some districts offer year-for-year credit for salary placement. Another popular tactic utilized by districts is to make hiring decisions earlier in the school year. Recognizing the need to diversify the workforce and the changing national demographics, many school districts are modernizing recruitment and marketing strategies. For example, in order to adjust to the “greening” workforce, school districts are adapting hiring techniques to appeal to a younger demographic group. Growing your own teachers is another strategy that is becoming popular in school districts. There was an increase in the demand for teachers after the state economy improved and the Local Control Funding Formula was implemented around 2013. While recruiting teachers is still a focus for many school districts, it appears the demand for teachers has slowed over the last few years (CTC).

A district or school that desires to diversify their staff must look at this issue from multiple perspectives.
The Learning Policy Institute, a research-based think tank focused on improving educational policies and practices, indicates that California may not have a teacher shortage if more teachers were retained. Many research studies have indicated that lack of support is a critical factor in why many teachers decide to leave the teaching profession. Therefore, schools and school districts should consider the systemic supports for new and veteran teachers. The CTC has shared these popular forms of support:
  • Reducing beginning teacher workload.
  • Effective and free induction.
  • Mentoring.
  • Career advancement opportunities.
  • Desirable working conditions.
  • Effective/highly trained site leaders.
Micro conditions focusing on ethnicity and race
The desire to have a more diverse teacher population serving the unique California student population is impacted by the macro conditions referenced above. There is no doubt that financial considerations, recruitment strategies and support have an effect on career decisions. Additionally, many communities with people of color and families with low incomes have been underserved for years. This diminishes the pipeline of students coming out of the educational system that may be interested in becoming teachers. Historical and societal conditions in the United States have led to widespread disparities in who is teaching in classrooms throughout California. According to the California Department of Education’s annual report on the gender and ethnicity distribution of the current teacher workforce, in 2017-18, 73 percent of teachers were female and 62 percent of teachers were European American. Also, while African Americans are 5.4 percent of the student population in California, only about 4 percent of teachers are African American. The same condition exists for Latinx American teachers where students are over 50 percent of the student population and Latinx American teachers make up 21 percent of the teaching ranks. Challenging the current conditions When educators, researchers and policymakers discuss the issue of having a more diverse teaching workforce, the question could and should be asked why an African American or Latinx American would want to become a teacher and just as important, why would an African American or Latinx American want to stay in the profession? While the macro conditions definitely influence career decisions, various micro conditions at the county, school district and school site levels should be considered when developing strategies to diversify the workforce. Geographic considerations  In California, African American and Latinx Americans are more likely to live in selective counties and hence, are more likely to be a greater percentage of teachers in local schools. Statewide, according to CDE’s DataQuest, there were 11,918 African American and 63,280 Latinx American teachers in 2017-18. These teachers made up 3.9 percent and 20.7 percent of the teacher ranks, respectively. The counties with the highest number of African American teachers in 2017-18 were Los Angeles (5,603), Alameda (967), San Bernardino (934) and Riverside (810). The counties with the greatest number of Latinx American teachers in 2017-18 were Los Angeles (23,923), San Diego (4,573), Riverside (4,435) and San Bernardino (4,064). While the counties in the chart above have a high number of Latinx American teachers, there are five counties that are not displayed where the percentage of Latinx American teachers in the county far exceed the state average. They are Imperial (68 percent), Tulare (30 percent), Merced (29 percent), Monterey (29 percent) and Madera (28 percent). School districts in the counties that already have a more diverse teaching workforce are in an advantageous position to attract and recruit teachers of color. Furthermore, these counties are more likely to keep teachers of color since societal trends demonstrate that people are more likely to live in areas where there is ethnic and cultural familiarity. In counties where the population is less diverse, school officials will likely experience greater difficulties finding and keeping teachers of color. In attempting to attract and retain teachers of color to these communities, school officials will need to seriously consider strategies to welcome and support teachers of color who may feel isolated. Additionally, site and central office leaders would likely benefit from professional learning opportunities that focus on education through an ethnic lens. The California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators Summer Institute in July and the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators’ annual professional development summit in March are excellent opportunities to engage with school leaders around several educational topics of interest. The California Association of Bilingual Educators and the California Association of Black School Educators also provide valuable learning experiences and resources. Whether in diverse or not so diverse communities, it is important to seriously consider local conditions when trying to attract, recruit and retain teachers of color.  In order to get a clearer picture of efforts to diversify the workforce, districts and their schools should regularly compare their gender and ethnicity demographic data to other school districts within the same county and state.  There are macro conditions that impact staffing trends that local school districts have little control over. For example, the underfunding of California schools impacts the compensation of teachers across the state. Many college graduates do not consider working in education because the salaries in other industries offer better compensation packages. This is especially true for graduates who specialize in STEM fields, CTC has conducted surveys exploring why teachers leave the profession and low salaries and benefits are primary factors indicated by respondents. While local school districts have less impact on determining how much funding is allocated to the public school system, there are several micro conditions that should be considered in efforts to retain all teachers, and particularly, teachers of color. The CTC reports that inadequate preparation and support, ineffective site leadership, inadequate prep time/heavy teaching load, lack of autonomy and limited opportunity for professional advancement are among the top reasons why teachers leave the profession. A school district should consider these factors when developing a plan to retain teachers and should especially explore these areas through a diversity lens. Researcher Travis Bristol encourages schools to have more than one Black male teacher on the staff as a means to minimize isolation. Additionally, Bristol suggests that placing African American teachers in lower performing or underserved schools leads to a heavier workload and challenging teaching conditions for many teachers of color. School systems would be wise to add additional supports for teachers and administrators who serve students in the most challenging situations. There are some additional common experiences that exist for African American and Latinx American teachers. Recent studies have indicated that both African American and Latinx American teachers may experience heavier responsibilities and limited opportunities for professional advancement in schools. African American teachers report having more challenging students assigned to their classes. Additionally, African American teachers report that their colleagues may ask them to supervise a student who is on a “timeout,” which unofficially adds another student, and a difficult student, to the teacher’s workload. The Education Trust study, Our, Stories, Our Struggles, Our Strengths: Perspectives and Reflections from Latino Teachers, illuminates some of the experiences faced by Latinx American teachers. In this study, Latinx American teachers who speak Spanish were often asked to be translators for their peers. They were also asked to be cultural navigators in helping to forge relationships between the school and the Latinx community. Both African American and Latinx American teachers also mention being overlooked for advancement opportunities as one of the reasons for deciding to leave the teaching profession. Why would I (an African American male) want to be a teacher? A district or school that desires to diversify their staff must look at this issue from multiple perspectives. The educational experience for many students of color has not been positive. For these students, why would they want to return to a less than rewarding school setting? In highly ethnically diverse school communities, there are likely already people of color who may be interested in becoming teachers. If this is the case, what can school sites and school districts do to attract and support teachers? In less diverse communities, what can school sites and school districts do to minimize isolation for teachers of color? The following are some strategies to consider when developing a plan to attract, recruit and retain teachers, and especially, teachers of color. Considerations in attracting, recruiting and retaining teachers of color
  • Know and consider macro conditions when developing teacher hiring and retention plans. Macro conditions (financial incentives, targeted recruitment and outreach, and workplace support) impact career decisions of all teachers regardless of ethnicity or race.
  • When recruiting African American and Latinx American teachers, be sure to have a presence in the counties where African Americans and Latinx Americans are already present.
  • For less diverse school settings, consider providing opportunities for ethnically diverse teachers and administrators to interact with colleagues of color throughout the state and/or nation.
  • Consider providing additional support for educators who work in underserved communities. 
  • Support and encourage nontraditional professional learning opportunities, such as CALSA, CABE, CABSE and CAAASA, for site and central office educational leaders.
  • Regularly review teacher demographic data, compare the data to neighboring districts, county and statewide averages, and set employment goals.
Bristol, Travis. (2014) “Black Men of the Classroom: A Policy Brief for How Boston Public Schools Can Recruit and Retain Black Male Teachers.”
California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Dataquest. Retrieved from https://data1.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/Staff/StaffByEth.aspx?cLevel=State&cYear=2017-18&cChoice=StateNum1&cType=T&cGender=B&Submit=1. California Department of Education. Griffin, Asley. (2018) “Our, Stories, Our Struggles, Our Strengths: Perspectives and Reflections from Latino Teachers,” The Education Trust. Ingersoll, Richard and May, Henry (2016) “Minority Teacher Recruitment, Employment, and Retention: 1987 to 2013.” Learning Policy Institute

Daryl F. Camp is currently the superintendent in the San Lorenzo Unified School District and a Director-At-Large for the Association of California School Administrators. He is also the president-elect for the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators.

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Association of California School Administrators