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Amid teacher shortage, professors urge importance of recruiting Black educators

The careers children are frequently exposed to on social media shape what fields they want to pursue, an expert says.

ATLANTA — School districts have struggled to find enough qualified teachers, even reaching back to recruit those who have retired. The trends get worse as districts work to get more diverse leaders in the classroom, especially since the pandemic.

College professors studying the issue said COVID is just one factor. 

"I think we need to look at a host of factors, not just salaries, not just the conditions in schools, not just students, not just parents," Dr. Gertrude Tinker Sachs.

Sachs chairs the Department of Middle and Secondary Education at Georgia State University. She said districts need to explore how to make teaching attractive and appealing to people.

According to the educator, the careers children, especially Black children are frequently exposed to on social media shape what fields they want to explore or pursue.

"What appears to be right there in your face would be things like sports or maybe music because you see a lot of people who are doing those things. You see a lot of Black people who are in those professions," she pointed out. "So, until you begin to see the attractiveness of being in schools and teaching. You may not ever think of it as a possibility."

Former Kennesaw State Administrator Dr. Tristan Glenn agrees representation is at the root of who takes up teaching. Glenn is now the Assistant Vice President of Inclusion Campus Culture at Brown University.

He also pointed to the low percentage of Black men among the nation's teachers.

"Currently, the teaching population is constituted somewhere in the area of -- 78% of the teaching population identifies as white, primarily white females," Glenn said.

He adds that this can disengage students and which can become a lost opportunity to cultivate new talent.

"All of us should be afforded with the opportunity to be inspired, to be led, to be educated, to be in community with individuals that look like us," Glenn said. "Representation isn't the only thing but it is an important thing." 

For 26-year veteran Philadelphia teacher and principal Shariff El-Mekki, the benefit of Black teachers produces real-world results for students.

"If one Black child has a Black teacher they're up to 29% more likely to go to college and up to 30% more likely not to drop out of high school," El-Mekki said.

He said the statistics aren't new and neither are the outcomes.

"We've always known that Black teachers with Black students – those students will have higher attendance, better grades, better test scores, a higher sense of belongingness," he said. 

The veteran educator adds that with a teacher of color in the classroom students are more likely to see a curriculum that respects and honors their ancestor's history and contributions to civilization. 

El-Mekki adds that the impact of an inspired student could pay off for future generations too.

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