A majority of the nation’s public school students are students of color, but less than 20% of teachers are teachers of color — and only 2% are Black men. While more teachers of color are entering the classroom, data reveal that educators of color are also leaving at higher rates than their peers. To show the root cause of this problem and to identify solutions, The Education Trust and Teach Plus today jointly released new research that examines the challenges teachers of color face and documents the experiences of staff in schools that deliberately work to retain faculty of color.

“When students of color see themselves reflected in their instructors’ identities and in the curriculum, studies show that the positive impact on student achievement is far reaching, not only for students of color, but for all students.”

– John B. King Jr., president and CEO of The Education Trust

If You Listen, We Will Stay: Why Teachers of Color Leave and How to Disrupt Teacher Turnover comprises authentic narratives of teachers of color and successful school leaders. For this report, researchers conducted focus groups with teachers who identify as Black or Latino who talked about their experiences in the workforce and what schools, districts, and states could do to keep them in the field. Researchers also conducted case studies in schools and districts that were selected for their intentionality around retaining teachers of color.

High-Level Findings

In the focus groups, five themes emerged, highlighting the challenges that teachers of color face in the workforce and the reasons many of them fall out of teaching: (1) experiencing an antagonistic school culture; (2) feeling undervalued; (3) being deprived of agency and autonomy; (4) navigating unfavorable working conditions; and (5) bearing the high cost of being a teacher of color.

“We all must work together to tear down the barriers that keep our talented teachers of color from staying, growing, and thriving in their profession. The steps we take today to respond to this report are critical in ensuring the future success for students of all backgrounds.”

– Roberto J. Rodríguez, Teach Plus president and CEO.

Teachers expressed that their fellow educators, school leaders, and other staff often perpetuate unfavorable school cultures and climates where teachers of color do not feel welcomed, much less included. For example, one teacher in the study said, “In my experience, there is some implicit bias when it comes to contributing to ideas. I share ideas, and they get shut down, but my White peers share the same idea, and it is celebrated and implemented. It discourages me.” Furthermore, instead of being uplifted through opportunities for leadership and advancement, teachers of color find themselves being shut out. Throughout, researchers heard from teachers that their identity as people of color comes with added responsibilities.

From the case studies, researchers also identified five actions that schools and districts employ to be intentional about teacher recruitment and retention:

  1. Create culturally affirming school environments;
  2. Affirm teachers’ humanity and racial identity;
  3. Support, empower, and invest in teachers;
  4. Build a schoolwide “family”; and
  5. Adopt a district priority related to retaining teachers of color.

“School administrators can start to shift their cultures and keep teachers of color in the classrooms. Value teachers of color, support them, affirm them, and create a safe space for them. These actions are foundational to education and what we focus on for our students.”

– Keisha Rembert, an Illinois educator and Teach Plus Illinois Policy Fellowship alumna

Meanwhile, school leaders in the case studies spoke about the importance of ensuring that their vision for each of their schools aligns with teachers’ personal values and beliefs. One principal said, “Positive racial identity has to be an important part of how we approach the work.” The case studies also highlighted the importance of creating a space where principals feel comfortable engaging all staff, regardless of race, in discussions about how racism, systemic oppression, and implicit bias can show up in district, school, and classroom practices and language choices.

Leveraging both sets of data, Ed Trust and Teach Plus collectively propose four recommendations for state, district, and school leaders to disrupt the culture of turnover for teachers of color, including:

  1. Value teachers of color by providing loan forgiveness, service scholarships, loan repayment incentives, and relocation incentives for teachers coming into the field;
  2. Collect and disaggregate data (by race/ethnicity) on teacher recruitment, hiring, and retention;
  3. Invest in the recruitment, preparation, and development of strong, diverse leaders committed to positive working conditions for a diverse workforce; and
  4. Empower teachers of color by ensuring curricula, as well as learning and work environments, are inclusive and respectful of all racial and ethnic groups.