A growing body of evidence demonstrates the valuable role that teachers of color play in our schools, but COVID-19 could shrink their ranks—and may have already done so. As Black activists across the country push for schools to embrace anti-racist practices, pre-K through 12 and post-secondary systems must interrogate how their policies are harming aspiring teachers of color, including those considering a teacher preparation program, in the middle of one or about to complete one.
Higher Education and Financial Aid
Higher education budgets are taking an economic hit from the public health and economic crises, which could push students of color from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to leave or delay the completion of their teacher education programs. States are already announcing cuts, ranging from $100 million in Ohio to $1.7 billion in California for higher education institutions. These cuts would mean smaller financial aid packages for students.
Black and Latinx students in teacher training programs are already more likely to rely on federal student loans compared to their White counterparts. Applications for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which students must fill out in order to access federal financial aid, have decreased this year. Fewer FAFSA applications mean a dip in college enrollment, particularly for students of color.
Practicum and Field Experience Cut Short
COVID-19 cut short or canceled the practicums or field experiences of aspiring teachers, which could be particularly devastating for people of color. There is considerable research about the importance of high-quality field experiences: These offer students an opportunity to practice their skills and learn from mentors who provide feedback about instructional best practices. Field experiences also influence the future success of teachers, including likelihood of staying on the job and in the education field overall, so they play a key role in retention for teachers of color.
Hiring Practices After COVID-19
Several districts have moved their teacher hiring events online after the coronavirus. While necessary, this could disadvantage people of color who do not have access to reliable internet or a computer device. In fact, a 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that Black and Hispanic people were less likely than White people to own a personal desktop or laptop computer or have high-speed internet at home. Candidates of color are also more likely to encounter bias in the hiring process, which can be harder to spot or interrupt when interactions take place online.
What can districts and charter leaders poised to hire new teachers do to counteract these challenges?
New teachers of color whose field experiences were cut short will require support as they begin teaching in the fall. This could include pairing new teachers with a mentor from a similar racial/ethnic background who can support their transition. Districts could also consider creating affinity groups for new teachers of color to discuss problems of practice in their first few years of teaching.
One way for districts to reduce inequities associated with online hiring is to partner with local Black– or Brown-led education organizations to make sure their hiring pipelines are diverse. These organizations could also help prospective interviewees navigate the online interview process.
Districts could also develop or expand grow-your-own pathways that make it easier for current paraprofessionals or other support staff to become certified teachers. These pathways should also include those currently enrolled in community colleges who are interested in pursuing teaching certification.
COVID-19 and the rallying cry of Black Lives Matter should spur schools and districts to examine how their policies harm Black teachers and other teachers of color. These issues were already acute problems before COVID-19, so it is up to educational leaders to ensure that the pandemic doesn’t worsen the impact on teachers of color.