Across the United States, the number of Black educators consistently dwindles. In California, more than 78,000 Black students are in schools without any Black educators at all. Why are Black educators leaving the classroom?

Black teacher calling on a student; lots of students have their hands up

In a brief report published by the Black Educator Advocates Network, we surveyed Black educators across the state of California to understand Black educators’ views and experiences of their workplace and school culture. The results overwhelmingly revealed the barriers Black educators navigate, which ultimately play a role in their exit from the classroom.

The research is clear on the positive impact Black educators have on all students’ learning. Students who have a teacher who looks like them do better in school. Black students who have a Black teacher before fourth grade are more likely to graduate high school and go to college. However, currently Black educators only make up 6% of the teacher workforce.

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In our survey, respondents identified the following as the top three contributing factors to creating a workplace environment that retains Black educators:

  1. More Black teachers at their school
  2. A school leader committed to creating a culturally affirming and inclusive school culture
  3. An affinity group for Black educators and staff

Based on these findings and some of the open responses shared in the survey, here are five recommendations for school leaders and decision makers working to retain Black educators.

1. Build an anti-racist, culturally responsive, and inclusive school environment

Almost two-thirds—64%—of respondents said it is critical to have a school leader committed to creating a culturally affirming and inclusive school culture. In particular, educators called for a school culture focused on eradicating anti-Blackness, incorporating social-emotional learning lessons, celebrating diversity, and affirming and celebrating students’ cultures and backgrounds.

A culturally affirming school leader would recognize how racism and anti-Blackness can exist in their school for both students and staff. These leaders may dig into their student outcomes data and provide intentional support to a particular group based on their academic needs, or take steps to ensure staff are being managed fairly and not differently by race or gender.

Respondents suggested creating inclusivity by intentionally embedding Black culture in various aspects of the educational environment. For example, instead of only teaching historical Black figures during Black History Month, intentionally teach Black history throughout the school year.

2. Create safe spaces for Black educators and students to come together (affinity groups)

According to respondents, one of the most impactful ways to affirm Black educators and students would be creating an affinity group for Black educators (68%) and creating spaces and opportunities for Black students to come together (70%).

An initiative called Teacher Village, which recruits aspiring Black male educators into a fellowship and supports their transition into the classroom, has witnessed the power of creating Black educator affinity spaces at schools. Cofounders Peter Watts and Didi Watts design Black educator spaces as a time for Black educators to connect and develop their skills, both as educators and outside of education (like financial planning and mindfulness). The space fosters fellowship and a community committed to seeing them thrive in classrooms and beyond.

An example of affinity spaces for Black students is the Black Student Union model. Schools with Black Student Unions foster connections between Black students and opportunities to explore colleges and careers related to their identities. 

3. Provide and require culturally responsive training for all staff

While 45% of Black educators indicated that their school demonstrates a commitment to anti-racist school culture, only 21% reported that their schools have thoughtfully implemented protocols, procedures, and programs that encourage Black educators to thrive and support students to excel. This gap reveals the lack of implementation and accountability across schools and districts.

On one hand, several respondents highlighted the need for educational opportunities for all staff, including implicit bias training, anti-Black racism training, and professional development. Respondents emphasized the need to enhance the knowledge and skills of all educators to create a more inclusive environment.

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At the same time, professional development needs to be paired with school site accountability. If a district requires teachers to complete culturally responsive pedagogy professional development, how do we know if this is contributing to the classroom and school culture?

Accountability could include expanding staff satisfaction surveys with questions that explore how cultural responsiveness and inclusion show up at the school site. Accountability could also include creating a rubric to observe the values of professional development in practice throughout the school setting and climate. 

4. Ensure that Black educators have recognition, leadership opportunities, and involvement in decision-making

Educators expressed the importance of listening to and supporting Black educators, providing pathways for leadership, and recognizing their contributions. Many Black educators reported not being leveraged as leaders in their school or often being overlooked for roles like instructional coaching or content lead for their department. We recognize this type of overlooking of Black educators as a form of anti-Blackness and suggest schools and districts be intentional about building the capacity of Black educators to assume leadership. 

For example, schools can create coaching or fellowship opportunities for Black educators to learn and assume roles outside of the classroom. This model offers educators a space to learn the different roles inside their school or district.

5. Hire more Black educators and staff

Educators emphasized the importance of students having Black educators, especially Black students. It’s important to note that, in order to fulfill this recommendation, school leaders should consider how well they have implemented the four recommendations above, which make schools a more welcoming place for Black educators in the first place.

Respondents who identified they were the only Black educators at their school also shared that they carry the burden of having to speak on behalf of the entire Black community. This creates a toxic school environment full of microaggressions for both students and staff. Districts can be intentional about hiring Black educators by intentionally seeking out partnerships with teaching residencies that have high concentrations of people of color, or supporting Black educators in navigating the beginning stages of entering into the profession.

Ultimately, if districts, school leaders, and decision makers get clear about the steps need to eradicate anti-Blackness in their schools, then Black educators are more likely to thrive in education for our students.

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