Former Teachers Give Their Take On Why Schools Can’t Retain Black Teachers

Black teacher with a face mask explaining exam results to elementary student in the classroom.
Photo: Getty Images

While the United States continues to reckon with racism in various aspects of life, from American culture to economics and jobs disparities, schools across the country are having issues hanging onto Black teachers, according to The Hechinger Report, a non-profit independent news organization.

Pew Research Center published a study last month that found around 20% of American public school teachers, including those at charter schools, identify as people of color, compared to more than half of their students. Only 7% of teachers identified as Black, researchers say.

On top of this, schools struggle more with retaining diverse educators compared to recruitment. Reporters pointed out “between 1988 and 2018, the number of teachers of color hired by the country’s schools increased at a faster rate than the number of white teachers, yet those diverse educators also left their positions much more quickly, on average.” Black teachers were more than twice as likely as other teachers to say they were planning on leaving their jobs at the end of the 2020-21 school year, according to a report from the RAND Corporation.

Where schools and other institutions fail is the environment they’re hiring Black educators into, according to education experts and former teachers. Teachers of color may encounter pushback from the administration over concerning issues or face microaggressions. The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent racial issues has proved to be another challenge, The Hechinger Report highlights.

“A lot of school and district leaders take the approach, ‘We don’t care how messy or untidy or oppressive our house is—just come in anyway,’” Sharif El-Mekki says, the CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development.

These problems all coalesced in the case of Christina Talbott, a teacher of 20 years in New Orleans. Talbott used to work at Lusher Charter School until her pleas and calls for change fell on the administration’s deaf ears.

The teaching veteran told reporters she advocated for the school to change its name since it was dedicated to Robert Mills Lusher, a Confederate official who advocated for school segregation. She also claims she experienced microaggressions, received silence over proposed anti-racist professional development, and pointed out a decreasing admission of students of color despite White students only accounting for less than 10% of the New Orleans’ public school population.

“They were not there to talk but only to listen,” Talbott says. “They sat there stone-faced. It wasn’t a conversation—it was more us trying to encourage a conversation.”

The New Orleans teacher and her Asian-American colleague, Jake Gleghorn, created an anti-racist working group aimed at helping teachers understand racial issues. Lusher administrators reportedly told staff not to talk about the group over the school’s email, according to Talbott.

Both Talbott and Gleghorn have since left their positions at the school as the situation grew tenser, the news source confirms. They both have new jobs, they added.

“I think my voice was heard at Lusher—until it was something they didn’t want to hear,” Talbott says. “Ultimately it boiled down to me being a Black woman who had a voice and things to say that could make us stronger, and that not being valued and appreciated.”

Read more about this situation here.

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