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A couple of recent reports have utilized national survey data to raise critical questions about why teachers of color leave the profession. But these reports — and the debates that have followed — are missing a big piece, and that piece comes directly from teachers.

To date, with the exception of some district- or city-specific studies, these types of reports or subsequent discussions about teacher retention have not included teacher voice — their own experiences in their own words. And how are we to propose a path forward without first listening to those directly involved in the day-to-day work?

That’s why we set out to hear from teachers of color and from Black and Latino teachers particularly.

Over the past 18 months, we pulled together focus groups with both Black and Latino teachers from seven states (and from several districts within each state) about their experiences in classrooms and schools. As we traveled, a distinct narrative began to unfold among Black teachers that exposed the often racialized working conditions that they face every day, which we will share in a forthcoming paper this fall. (An accompanying brief on Latino teachers will follow.)

We listened to teachers who had a penchant to teach and serve Black students well, but found themselves restricted to only teaching Black students; teachers who were reduced to disciplinarians instead of being respected for their ability to manage their classrooms; teachers who put in extra time and effort, but still weren’t heard in staff meetings; and teachers who related well to students, but had to “tone down” their personalities to be seen as professionals. We heard similar sentiments everywhere we went, proving the ubiquitous nature of some of these issues regardless of context or geography.

Now, we are helping to elevate the voices of Black teachers — to not only expose trends in retention and hiring, but to help provide credence to anecdotes that are often dismissed. Building a diverse teacher workforce is even more complex than the discussion of recruitment, employment, and retention. It is imperative to understand the nuanced nature of the many experiences of Black teachers, and we hope this paper will supplement all of the conversations currently swirling about regarding teachers of color. Stay tuned.

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

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