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Secretary King Talks Teacher Diversity With Boston Educators of Color

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By guest blogger Liana Heitin


After giving a lunchtime keynote address at the Education Writers Association conference today, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. headed to Gardner Pilot Academy to speak with a group of Boston public school educators about diversity in the teaching force.

Across the country, nonwhite students now outnumber whites, and yet the teaching force remains predominantly white and female. Black male teachers are the most underrepresented group.

King asked the half-dozen teachers for suggestions on how to improve the school experience for teachers of color in order to help raise retention rates and expand the teacher pipeline. He spent most of the 30-minute session listening, but also highlighted pieces of the president's recent budget proposal that could help (though, as he emphasized, the proposal would need to pass Congress).

The Boston school system has recently made efforts to attract and retain a pool of teachers that looks more like its student body. An initiative called the Male Educators of Color Executive Coaching Program aims to help male educators pursue leadership roles in the district.

Nearly 9 out of 10 Boston students identify as black, Latino, or Asian. As of now, about 37 percent of teachers in the district are teachers of color, according to Ceronne Daly, the director of diversity programs for the district, who led the discussion today. That's compared to just 17 percent of teachers nationally.

'The Only Black Teacher'

During the roundtable, several teachers spoke to the importance of having multiple teachers of color in a school. "When I started teaching, I was the only black teacher," said Chima Ikonne, who teaches English/language arts at Mary Lyon Pilot High School. "I felt like there was so much pressure on me to be able to teach students of color. ... If there was a student [of color] misbehaving, teachers would say, 'Hey, can you talk to him?'" As the school hired more teachers of color, that became easier, he said.

King, who began his career teaching social studies, was able to relate. "When I was a high school teacher, I was very conscious of not having a network of other teachers of color," he said.

Having mentors and the ability to collaborate with teachers from across district and state lines can also help, the teachers said.

Garcia Dalzon, who teaches history at East Boston High, said as a first-year teacher, it would have been valuable to have a mentor who looked like himself to share experiences with.

Attending conferences and professional development opportunities allows teachers to learn from their peers in other places. Marcus Walker, a history teacher at Excel High School, said going to a teacher leadership summit in New Orleans recently was "an incredible opportunity to link up with like-minded teachers of color."

The secretary noted that the president's budget would include $1 billion for a grant competition to help make teaching the "Best Job in the World" by improving salaries, working conditions, and professional development. He also said that states have flexibility with how they use their Title II dollars, which go toward teacher training and recruitment, under the new Every Student Succeeds Act. 

Education Week Producer Jessica Windt contributed to this report.

Image: Jessica Windt for Education Week

Read also: Black Male Teachers a Dwindling Demographic

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