What Is The Impact Of The Exodus Of Black Teachers?
Over the last 70 years, the number of Black teachers in America’s schools has dramatically decreased. Bringing awareness to that trend is now a top priority for Dr. Valerie Hill-Jackson.
During the first 11 years of desegregation, after Brown vs. Board of Education, more than 45,000 Black teachers lost their jobs.
“The families and administrators at the white schools did not want Black teachers teaching their kids. Bottom line. There have been many historians that have found actual records of interview processes and notices. Teachers were actually told ‘I don’t want that negro at my school’,” explained Dr. Hill-Jackson, clinical professor of critical teacher education.
While the bias might not be as obvious now, we still are not seeing an accurate representation of the population. Just seven percent of America’s teachers are Black and just five percent are Black women.
While a lot has been done to improve diversity in America’s classrooms, Dr. Hill-Jackson knows there is a lot more that can be done.
“We’re the best country on the planet, I really believe that. We improve with our diversity initiatives every decade and you can see the growth of this amazing country. But, when we see a problem, we have to sound the alarm and now is the time to sound the alarm.”
Dr. Hill-Jackson has several recommendations for reversing the loss of female Black teachers.
First, she suggests special emphasis recruiting, a targeted and pre-emptive recruitment of a particular population. Research has shown that when you recruit, it is important to have recruiters that resemble the community you are trying to bring in.
At the national level, she recommends being strategic with reform efforts. Examples include rethinking reform agendas by ensuring that lack of finances will not keep qualified
Black female students from teacher education programs. Colleges of education can help with this by recruiting and supporting students of color to ensure their success in college and in their teaching careers.
The big change, according to Dr. Hill-Jackson, needs to also happen in school districts. What she found is that Black teachers go into school districts and feel isolated and alone because there may be only one or two other teachers of color. By focusing on specific recruitment techniques and conversations about diversity, school districts can become welcoming places for teachers of color to work and, in turn, make them more likely to stay in those schools.
“Whether we’re putting together a group in our community or we’re trying to staff a school, we need to make sure that these institutions reflect who we are as Americans. All of us say that we believe in democracy, in theory, but this is our opportunity to implement diversity ideas into practice. It just means being intentional.”
Dr. Hill-Jackson began researching this topic when she was invited to write a book chapter on the exodus of Black women from the teaching profession. She admits she had no idea what she was getting into and quickly became overwhelmed with information.
“This was information that was never shared in my teacher preparation. That saddened me and made me realize that teacher preparation programs around the country are not sharing the information about the bifurcated school systems that were status quo in our nation’s public school systems.”
Most of the teaching force for Black children in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Black women. According to Dr. Hill-Jackson, the stakes were higher for them than their white counterparts.
“When they became teachers, they knew they were educating a cadre of people who came out of slavery and their self-esteem was connected to a lack of education. This was a chance for their people to be uplifted, not just educationally but also economically and politically.”
There started to be a dramatic demographic decline in the number of Black female teachers shortly after Brown vs. Board of Education. While many considered Brown a celebration because of the push for integration, many Black female teachers were losing their jobs and strong teacher-student relationships in the Black community dissolved.
One of Dr. Hill-Jackson’s concerns is that people do not understand the carryover effect and just say “that was then.” She understands this is a history many are uncomfortable with but knows it is important for future Aggie teachers to understand the impact a profession, steeped in a legacy of discrimination and segregation, has on teaching today.
Dr. Hill-Jackson is starting a change in her classrooms. She adapted her curriculum this semester to talk about segregation in schools, the history of Civil Rights and making time for more discussions on the topics. Her commitment is to embed these discussions in the experience for our future teachers.
“As often as I can, I share these messages with my students. If you want to know the perspective of people that you’re not used to interacting with, then you have to sit and hear their story. We look at the world through our middle-class perspective and, when folks have gone through another life experience, their motivations for doing what they do are often different than ours. As educators of an increasingly diverse student body, we owe this deep dive into our nation’s educational history to them.”
To support black students who are pursuing a degree that leads to a career in teaching, donors may wish to consider the creation of a Foundation Excellence Award (“FEA”) Scholarship. These scholarships can be endowed at a minimum level of $50,000. This endowment will provide a student $2,000 per year for four years while they pursue their dream of becoming a teacher. Additionally, a one-time gift of $10,000 can fund a non-endowed FEA with a similar four-year scholarship, but for $2,500 per year.
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