Our Brown Education Department Spring 2018 Speaker Series kicked off in February with Dr. Travis Bristol, Peter Paul Assistant Professor at the Boston University School of Education, presenting “Policy Levers for Increasing the Ethnoracial Diversity of Teachers in Urban Public Schools.” Bristol’s combination of research, policy and practice, particularly on the intersection of race and gender in schools, was topical for Brown’s UEP and MAT graduate students.
Bristol had become inspired to be a teacher as a student at Washington Irving High School in New York, where he’d begin his day passing through grim metal detectors, wondering if there was an effect on how people learned when they were made to feel as if they were policed. Bristol later created an afterschool program in response to a disproportionate amount of suspensions for Black male students. In the program, these overly policed students met with men of color, fostering relationships with people who looked like them, encouraged them, and stayed in touch with them. The result: students became more engaged in class.
But there’s a glaring student-teacher ethnoracial mismatch in U.S. public schools, Bristol reported. In 2014, less than 2% of U.S. teachers were Black males, even after U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan’s 2011 “Calling Black Men to the Blackboard” initiative. More recruitment attempts have targeted Black male teachers in recent years, such as Boston Public Schools’ 2014 launch of the Male Educators of Color Executive Coaching Seminar Series, but Black male teachers also leave their positions at a higher rate than their counterparts. Why?
Bristol researched this issue in part by interviewing 27 Black male teachers across 14 schools in Boston. His data aligned with other findings: that workers in the majority create conditions that challenge minorities. Role encapsulation (tasks that appear to be assigned based on a social identity, such as placing Black males in the role of behavior managers rather than teachers) and administrative perception that Black males are intellectually inferior, leading to a lack of respect for their opinions and a distance from inviting them into other spaces, affect how Black male teachers feel and are viewed, making their work more challenging than for their colleagues. Black male teachers feel called to teaching because kids lack Black male role models, but they also feel more feared and less supported than their non-Black or non-male counterparts — especially when they are the only Black male teachers in their schools. Some reported feeling expected by leaders to run schools like prisons, making it difficult to keep the work meaningful and engaging. Hiring discrimination prevents some Black male teachers from even getting into schools. Those who do tend to lack differentiated professional development and a safe space to talk candidly about preparation. How can we retain and support Black male teachers?
Research shows that socio-emotional teaching does matter, Bristol stated; creating a positive environment increases learning and long-term outcomes. There is added value when students of color are taught by teachers of color. Research shows that Black students who had at least one Black teacher were significantly less likely to drop out of school and more likely to aspire to attend college, as well as showing improved performance on standardized tests.
Bristol, a former high school English teacher and clinical teacher educator with the Boston Teacher Residency program, employed a popular classroom technique, “turn and talk,” to immerse Brown University audience members in discussing whether we’re in a situation where we need Latino teachers teaching Latino students or White teachers teaching White students. When reporting out on their conversations, audience members listed disparities in resources among schools and districts, the importance of diversity in and outside of classrooms, and the importance of engaging, rather than punishing, students of color. In response to an audience member’s question about what states outside of Massachusetts and New York are doing about this issue, Bristol stated that nine U.S. states have signed up on an initiative aiming to match teachers of color to students of color by 2060.
Bristol briefly presented on other hopeful initiatives, including NYC Men Teach, which aims to recruit an additional 1,000 Black male teachers into New York schools; the Relay Graduate School of Education, an alternative school leader program that helps design professional development for Black male teachers; LA Unified, whose district work includes teacher of color recruitment, support, and retention campaigns; the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development, which documents school-based experiences for ethnic minority teachers across 35 member countries; and Pathways to Teaching, a longer-term investment that gives high schoolers teaching experience in exchange for college credit.
Brown University is redesigning its teacher education program, Bristol was informed. What should that redesign include to keep the content rigorous and yet address the diversity pipeline? That pipeline starts in K-12, Bristol responded, and people of color get lost in it much earlier than when they apply to an MAT program. When schools discipline first and teach second, when students of color are expelled, those students are lost before they can ever decide to teach. For those who do pursue teacher education, Bristol suggested, the best thing Brown can do is to recognize that cost for teacher education programs matter. Find the finances to help more people of color afford to pursue teacher education.
A last question asked about additional barriers to the pipeline, and Bristol noted that biases in tests such as the MCAS and the Praxis exams can affect the self-esteem of exam takers. Passing a test can’t guarantee an ability to increase learning for students. Rhode Island’s Commissions of Education, Ken Wagner, spoke up from the audience, stating that he’d been present at meetings in which national leaders are trying to break down barriers and examine other performance measurements beyond tests, such as cultural competency. The edTPA (formerly the Teacher Performance Assessment) provides a multiple-measure assessment system aligned to state and national standards that can guide the development of curriculum and practice around the common goal of making sure new teachers can teach effectively and improve student achievement.