Recruiting and Retaining More Educators of Color

Having a racially and culturally diverse teacher workforce is beneficial for all P-12 students, and particularly for students of color, who often thrive in classrooms led by teachers who share their racial and cultural backgrounds. In Massachusetts, however, teachers of color make up just 8.5% of the teacher workforce — and that number has barely budged in the last decade. Despite some state and local efforts, people of color continue to be underrepresented in educator preparation programs. Teachers of color are also leaving the profession at far higher rates than their White counterparts. A recent Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) analysis showed that 24% of African American teachers and 17% of Latinx teachers left their district in 2016-17 — compared to 13% of White teachers. These high attrition rates raise serious questions about the working conditions in our districts and schools — and what those working conditions tell us about learning environments for students.

Increasing educator diversity will require better recruitment and retention of educators of color. This moment and the resources available through federal recovery funds offer a critical opportunity to do both. Here are some steps education leaders can take to attract and retain more teachers of color:

Start by Listening

When researchers from Teach Plus and The Education Trust spoke with Black and Latinx teachers around the country about what would encourage them to stay in the classroom, respondents time and again expressed the need to feel heard. In fact, this theme was so common that the researchers titled their report If You Listen, We Will Stay.

District and school leaders should begin their work to improve recruitment practices and working conditions by listening. Leveraging federal dollars, they can compensate educators of color to serve on task forces committed to creating or improving equity-centered recruitment and retention practices within the district or school. These task forces can recommend specific actions themselves and develop approaches for obtaining ongoing feedback from other educators of color. Importantly, when launching this work, education leaders must commit to acting on educator recommendations (and reserving funds to do so) and including members of the task force in the decision-making process.

Seize the Moment to Establish New Pathways into Education

“In a state where people of color make up less than 9% of the teacher workforce and just 18% of paraprofessionals, expanding the pipeline must be part of the educator diversity strategies of the state and districts.”

In a state where people of color make up less than 9% of the teacher workforce and just 18% of paraprofessionals, expanding the pipeline must be part of the educator diversity strategies of the state and districts. According to a recent policy analysis by The Education Trust, Massachusetts has not done nearly enough to invest in high retention pathways into teaching, such as residency models and alternative certification programs that traditionally support and develop teachers of color.

This moment offers an unprecedented opportunity to establish new pathways into teaching and other school-based careers for current students and members of the community. Following the disruptions of the past 18 months, many students are likely to benefit from additional academic and social-emotional support — support that many schools do not have the personnel to provide. Education leaders should leverage these additional staffing needs to expand the teacher and school counselor pipelines, with an emphasis on recruiting and supporting homegrown educators of color. For example, education leaders can:

  • Hire tutors and mentors from within the community and provide them with the training and support they need to be successful in these roles.
  • Partner with local higher education institutions or nonprofits to establish research-based residency-style pathways to support tutors and mentors in becoming paraprofessionals, teachers, community outreach specialists or school counselors. Establishing such pathways will not only help districts retain more of the talent they hire now, but may serve as a key part of a diverse educator pipeline moving forward.
  • Establish partnerships with local higher education institutions to enable current college students to earn credit toward degrees in education or guidance counseling/social work in exchange for serving as tutors or mentors, respectively. Note that tutors and mentors should be compensated for their time, even if they are earning credit.
  • Create paid opportunities for current high school students and recent graduates to mentor younger peers (with training and support) and couple those opportunities with free coursework toward school-based careers, such as teaching or school counseling. For current students, this approach could form a new early college pathway into teaching; for recent graduates — it could be akin to a scholarship, but in the form of tuition-free coursework.
  • Hire more coaches, mentors, and evaluators of color to support prospective teachers — including pre-service educators in traditional teacher preparation programs and candidates participating in the pathways described here. Education leaders should also recruit educators of color already teaching in the district to serve in these roles, taking care to compensate them for the additional responsibilities they take on.

Improve Working Conditions to Increase Retention

“Strong retention is a school’s or district’s best recruitment tool”

Strong retention is a school’s or district’s best recruitment tool. Prospective teachers ask peers about their experiences in the workplace, and word-of-mouth is often a critical factor in candidates’ career decisions. Moreover, what is the point of investing time and resources in recruitment if school or district leaders do not take steps to keep the staff they hire?

As mentioned earlier, listening to educators of color already in the field should be central to efforts to improve working conditions and retention. That said, research points to several common challenges that educators of color often face in the workplace and to steps that education leaders can take to address them. Here are some ideas about how education leaders can leverage federal resources to improve retention:

  • Establish cross-school networks or affinity groups for educators of color. Such networks can help combat isolation, provide a space where educators can restore and rejuvenate themselves, and help educators find peer support. Education leaders can use federal dollars to offset program costs — including the cost of staff to coordinate network communications and programming.
  • Create leadership and mentorship opportunities. Many of the policy and practice changes proposed on these pages (such as selecting and implementing curricula that affirm all students’ identities) will require the knowledge and expertise of educators of color. Education leaders must both recognize and elevate their expertise through short- and long-term leadership opportunities. Federal dollars (and, in the future, state Student Opportunity Act dollars) can be used to compensate teachers for serving on task forces such as those mentioned above, leading professional development, mentoring other teachers, or opening their classrooms to other educators so colleagues can learn from each other’s practice.
  • Remove the real-time burdens of unpaid labor that often fall to educators of color: In addition to their official roles as teachers or school counselors, educators of color are often called on (either directly or implicitly) to take on extra, unpaid, and often stereotype-based labor. They may feel pressure to assume additional mentorship roles (as in the case of a Black teacher, who by virtue of being Black, becomes the de facto disciplinarian or role model of Black students in the school) or to serve as the token/representative person of color on various committees and task forces, or to take on additional commitments that take time away from their teaching (as in the case of a Latina teacher who, because she speaks Spanish, is asked to serve as an interpreter when the school does not have one available). This “invisible tax” takes a heavy toll on teachers of color, who are often expected to shoulder much of the work of making their schools more inclusive places. Education leaders can use federal funding to help eliminate this invisible tax by expanding cultural competency training, especially for White educators, and hiring people (e.g., translators) to do the work that educators of color are often expected to do for free.
  • Ensure that school leaders have the support and coaching they need to create inclusive and welcoming working environments for educators of color. School principals play a critical role in shaping the culture and working conditions within a school. Many of them, however, enter this leadership role with insufficient preparation, particularly when it comes to establishing a strong and inclusive school culture — not just for students, but for adults within their buildings. District leaders can use federal resources to provide principals with the coaching and professional development they need to improve working conditions within their schools.
Importantly, district leaders themselves will need additional support in order to implement the strategies outlined here. State leaders can use their share of federal resources to support district leaders by offering targeted training on these recruitment and retention approaches, establishing networks of districts and schools to facilitate the sharing of ideas and expertise, and identifying external partners who have a successful track record and can support education leaders in implementing these strategies.

Questions to Ask as an Advocate:

  1. What work is in progress to increase the retention and recruitment of educators of color? And, what outcomes are you seeing? Are those efforts working and how do you know? Who is involved in designing and participating in these initiatives?
  2. What specific goals does the school or district have around educator diversity? Who developed those goals and how were they developed?
  3. How much money do you anticipate dedicating to addressing the recruitment and retention of educators of color?
  4. How will you use new federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III resources to improve recruitment and retention efforts?
  5. How will you use federal resources to evaluate and develop new educator education pipeline programs?
  6. What evidence did you consider when deciding to implement each educator diversity initiative?
  7. How will you collaborate with a wide range of educators of color throughout the development and assessment of educator diversity initiatives?

Additional Resources:
  1. Learning Policy Institute (April 19, 2018), Diversifying the Teaching Profession Through High-Retention Pathways.
  2. Learning Policy Institute (May 3, 2021), Building a Strong and Diverse Teaching Profession.
  3. Teach Plus (July 18, 2021), Invest Today, Thrive Tomorrow .
  4. The Education Trust (September 25, 2019), If You Listen, We Will Stay.
  5. The Education Trust (November 13, 2020). Is Your State Prioritizing Teacher Diversity & Equity?
  6. The Education Trust (July 21, 2021), A Natural Fit: Supporting After-School Staff of Color in Teacher Pipelines .