Where Have All The Teachers of Color Gone? (With Answers)

Jose Vilson Education, Jose, Race

You should know that, at last week’s panel for the conference I attended, I went to a panel entitled “Where Have All The Teachers of Color Gone?” and never got our main question answered. Instead of coming for the moderator for not “doing the education,” I’ll ask you to consider a few things:

  • I’ve done some of the research for New York City, and similar patterns arise across the country.
  • Before we can even answer the “teachers of color” question, we have to differentiate what types of leaving we have.
  • Before that, we have to consider the mindset of the folks asking questions about it, and whether they’ve read any of the tangible research.

Even after the Albert Shanker Institute released their comprehensive report on the decline of teachers of color, mass media generally eschews thorough examinations and historical contexts of the question. The “teachers of color” issue is almost exactly like the teachers at large issue, but that difference, namely race, makes this all the more complicated. When integrationists won a hard-fought battle for school integration in 1954, folks across the country responded to it and the other numerous court-ordered integration orders by firing more than 38,000 black teachers and other education professionals en masse. When education reformers of present-day wanted to disrupt their education systems, they competed against each other in their shows of force by shutting down, breaking up, and privatizing schools with majority students of color.

Guess where teachers of color, not so coincidentally, tend to work?

All of this has precedent. It isn’t even that teachers of color have a preference towards teaching one set of kids over another per se. A part of it is that they want to teach students who come from their backgrounds. But they’re also not getting hired at schools that are predominantly white. That’s why they often have fewer options to stay in education than their white counterparts who, from my informal observations, seem to have more options within the school system.

This particularly stung in places like Washington, D.C., NYC, and Chicago where, after my own conversations and observations with countless teachers, reformers sought to bring a hammer to schools with majority students of color and bring in their own visions for what teachers looked like: white, young, and possibly conforming to a corporate ethos. Teach for America CEO should take responsibility for this as that was the premise of her domestic Peace Corps project. At the same time, former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, and the handful of education officials who ran Chicago Public Schools for the last decade and change carried this out to fidelity, filling their central offices with lawyers and MBAs to talk to a teacher corp that started to look more and more like central offices.

How fitting.

Across the country, we also had faces of color telling other faces of color that this was the path to freedom and liberation. They used terms of “not all skinfolk are my kinfolk,” an axiom of grave consequence, to change the face of the failing teacher to a darker, older face. Even when the research shows that teachers of color are more likely to see children of color as potentially gifted, these folks couldn’t wait to fill in the conservative void and give cover for the folks plundering our schools. But the inborn capitalist in them asserts that, because they’re eating well, no one else can or must.

Thank you, Dr. Steve Perry and Democrats for Education Reform.

So, to answer the question, teachers of color are either dismissed or leave. They’re dismissed largely because their schools are more likely to get shut down due to the major reasons we see out there: standardized test scores, restructuring plans, and lack of parental voice and real choice. They leave due to the lack of autonomy in teaching in ways that would more readily impact students of color. Things like scripted lessons and curricula and silencing in common planning meetings contribute to the profession being stolen from right under them. These are issues that also affect white teachers who’ve decided to stay in the profession long enough to consider it a career. This is why solidarity matters, and why we all must advocate for teachers of color.

The rebuttal to this question reminds me of when basic folk say things like, “All lives matter” when activist assert that Black lives matter. My first question is usually, “Well, do you organize for all of us to have a well-compensated, respected profession that listens to students and the community, and can make sharp decisions about the students in their care? Or do you only care if you personally get what you want out of life?” If we can show solidarity for the folks most disempowered by our system, then the whole system benefits as a result. That’s not a rising tide lifting all boats. That’s us moving the whole freaking sea floor.

But I wouldn’t expect everyone to have done the research on it. Institutional racism thrives on people not actually reading up.