“The first step on the road to justice is to provide the oppressed with a voice to tell their story.” —Adrienne D. Dixson and Celia K. Rousseau, Critical Race Theory in Education

Of all the amazing things we found on our journey listening to Black teachers across the country, hearing their voice was one of the most powerful and prominent takeaways. In all of our focus groups, Black teachers wanted to be heard, and they wanted their opinions respected and to some degree, validated — not validated by us, as researchers, but by each other. There was power in knowing someone else had experienced the same challenges and taught in a similar way, and being able to hear others and be heard was one of the most amazing things in our study.

We heard from Black teachers across the country about their uniqueness and why they believed that being a Black teacher mattered. And, as our paper tomorrow will show, they are all of the things we have heard so much in research and anecdote alike: role models, familial figures, classroom managers, and content specialists. Despite their efficacy, or belief in themselves, they realize the disconnect between their skills and the education reform and policy side of things.

As one Black, male teacher in Tennessee told us, “The education policy side is very unbalanced — which is why a lot of things get passed down, because they don’t understand … until you get down there and do the work, you know — I think they should pull more teachers from the inner city to set the educational policies.”

How is it that policies are set locally and nationally without engaging the communities impacted? What will it take to increase the share of adults of color, both in classrooms and in policy halls?

These are teachers we — the ed policy circle, as a whole — need to pay closer attention to, to engage, and to elevate. After all, as prominent educational researchers have written, “The voice of people of color is required for a complete analysis of the educational system.”

We’ll release the first bit of our findings tomorrow in a report, “Through Our Eyes,” that not only highlights the perceptions and reflections from Black teachers but also calls attention to the need to better support and value Black teachers and recognize their strengths and contributions to the classroom. (A brief on Latino teachers will follow in the coming months.)

We hope you’ll read — and listen to what they have to say.