Coalition focuses on recruitment and retention of teachers

Education Minnesota joined the Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers in Minnesota and helped host a conference for current and aspiring teachers this August.

“Being involved in this coalition is Education Minnesota recognizing that we need to recruit and retain teachers of color,” said Monica Byron, a Richfield teacher and member of the Education Minnesota Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee, who attended the conference. “If the union is there for its members, it needs to be there for all of its members. And if we don’t have the resources in house, we need to look elsewhere, like this coalition.”

The coalition was created last year by a group of teacher educators who were concerned about barriers that especially impact people of color who want to enter and stay in the teaching profession.

The goals of the coalition are to double the number of teachers of color in Minnesota and have 20 percent of the students in teacher preparation programs be people of color.

The Summer 2016 Conference for Current & Aspiring Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers focused on those goals. The conference featured keynote speakers 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year Abdul Wright and 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes.

Breakout session topics ranged from mentorship of new teachers of color, legislative session recaps, how to lead change as an educator of color and recruiting community members into teaching. The conference also provided attendees a chance to network with others in their subject area groups and ethnic identities.

When Hayes addressed the crowd, she shared that when she was named National Teacher of the Year, only four of the 56 candidates were people of color.

“That was representative of our country. This is our reality,” she said. “But we can change that.”

“You covet what you see,” Hayes said. “I would have loved to have seen a teacher who had at the very least an understanding of my cultural experience. We need to empower our students and show them there is potential in this profession.”

Hayes said she hopes current teachers of color are being advocates for other teachers, to understand both each other and their students of color.

“We need to advocate for culturally responsive professional development. We need to teach those who want to do better but don’t know how,” she said.

And bringing that cultural responsibility to the students is the most important job of any educator, Hayes said. “We can’t be surprised with what’s going on in society if we don’t cultivate students who are competent to handle change.”

The conference also featured Hayes and a panel of 2016 Minnesota Teacher of the Year finalists, Juanita Ortiz, Maria Le, Whitney McKinley and Wright. They answered questions on how to attract educators of color, how to elevate the profession, how to keep people of color in the profession and advice for new teachers.

In response to the question of how to attract more teachers of color, Wright said that requires so much more.

“If we attract more teachers of color, that means we have moved things—reached out to communities, changed policy, provided equitable resources.”

“As people of color, we are change agents,” Le said. “Seeing all of you, I am so hopeful.”

Another question came from the crowd regarding how to manage caring for your students, but also show progress on test scores and other ways administration measures educator and student success.

“It is about developing a relationship and trust with a student,” said Wright. “Then once you develop the relationships, you better teach like your hair is on fire. They need to know you hold them to a high standard, but it’s because you care.”

Waleid Hassan is starting this fall as a math teacher at Osseo Senior High School, where he will be the only teacher of color in his subject area. He asked the panel for their advice.

“Stand up, even if you stand alone,” said Le. “If you are the only teacher of color, find an ally.”

Hayes said that new, and all, teachers shouldn’t wait for a district program or piece of curriculum if you see a need for your students. “Don’t talk about it, be about it,” she said. “Give yourself permission to be great.”