I was a Latinx teacher. I loved it. I couldn’t afford to stay in it, but you need to, and I’ll help.
I grew up in Florida and never once had a Latinx teacher. I did, however, have a teacher who told me to, “Go back where you came from.” Even my most dedicated teachers and administrators couldn’t speak to my parents and didn’t understand my background and family dynamics. I became an educator, in large part, to fill a void for those students like me.
It was fantastic. I was a founding teacher at a school that inspired students and instilled confidence in parents. I spoke to Latinx parents in Spanish and personally understood the lived experiences of immigrant and first-generation students. But, thanks to my meager salary, I went home each night to a house I shared with five other people. Thus, the dilemma for me and many other passionate, diverse, young teachers. We can help others, but only at the expense of ourselves. Teaching may be a noble profession, but it couldn’t buy me a house, pay off my student loans or help my parents as they age. And I, like many others in my socioeconomic situation, didn’t have a trust fund or wealthy uncle to fall back on.
So 10 years ago, I left. I began work at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, helping to lead the largest randomized control trial of school reform in American history (Diplomas Now i3 Study), and I oversaw turnaround programming at 14 underperforming schools across the Northeast.
As an educator with first-hand experience in both teaching and research, the past decade has made me hopeful. While progress started slowly, we’ve seen some tangible changes for the better in the past five years, and those of us in education nonprofits have felt a groundswell of support since 2016.
Where we are now
In general, there is more creativity in how schools and governments help teachers enter the profession and earn a living wage.
- I serve on the board of a national charter school that gives teachers a housing stipend on top of their paychecks as a way of helping good teachers stay in communities that need them.
- In Chicago, a new bilingual teacher residency program is attempting to close teacher gaps and ease current shortages by recruiting from within and tapping paraeducators who show promise and interest in becoming licensed teachers.
Higher pay and clear pathways into teaching are critical, but these are just a couple of available approaches. Here are a few more I think about often.
- Let’s talk loan forgiveness by cities and states, rather than just federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Mayors and superintendents need to come together with the funds to say, “We want teachers from all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and we’ll help make it possible for you to stay.”
- We should create a more precise, robust pipeline from student to teacher to retention. Let’s provide paths from high school to college to accreditation in a way that doesn’t saddle people with debt. If we 1) give Latinx high school students the roadmap to debt-free teaching and 2) offer culturally relevant training and networks, perhaps we’ll see more Latinx educators entering and staying in the profession—a welcome and necessary change, considering that, at present, 43% of Latinx teachers leave the job within four years.
- Additionally, let’s do something to normalize, once and for all, the immigration status of the approximately 20,000 DACA teachers. These are disproportionately Latinx professionals who are ready and willing to teach. Shouldn’t we find a way to leverage their talent and desire?
While my focus is on Latinx educators in the classroom and administrative positions, this fight is far bigger. We also need other socially and culturally aware educators who can relate to students of all backgrounds. To get them and keep them, we must continue what Latinos for Education and others have started: make teaching worthwhile to keep worthwhile teachers.
Let’s get to work.