Educator’s View: How My Ohio District is Recruiting and Retaining Black Teachers

Diversifying the field must begin by verbalizing to Black and brown children that they are needed and valued

Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

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Having at least one Black teacher in elementary school reduces the chances of dropping out by 29% among low-income Black students and by 39% for very low-income Black males. Black students who have just one Black teacher by third grade are 13% more likely to enroll in college, while those who have two Black teachers are 32% more likely

However, Black classroom teachers make up only 7% of the entire workforce, even though Black children make up at least 16% of the student population. 

For my school district in Middletown City, Ohio, these statistics are motivation to continually challenge ourselves to reimagine strategies to recruit and retain teachers of color. 

While I was fortunate to have several champions throughout my K-12 experience, I didn’t have a single Black teacher until high school Algebra II. My first and only teacher of color set high standards with the expectation I would rise to meet them. Those high expectations are part of the fabric of who I am today — modeling what I, in turn, expect of others. She also inspired my career path: I started as a middle school math teacher and now serve as superintendent of Middletown City School District.

Growing up, no one told me there was a need for Black males in education. But diversifying the field must begin by verbalizing to Black and brown children that they are needed and valued, and that teaching is a meaningful profession where they can truly make a difference. 

Several years ago, my district set out to diversify our staff, but without defining a successful outcome. When we achieved a 5% increase in overall staff diversity, we happily patted ourselves on the back. But when we analyzed what this really meant, we realized we didn’t know how or whether the culture had changed. We needed to define our envisioned success.   

We began reimagining our hiring practices by examining effective national models and finding ways to emulate them. Visiting other League of Innovative Schools districts, we saw how the Toronto District School Board and South Carolina’s Richland School District Two developed successful partnerships with organizations led by former teachers of color. This inspired a partnership with He is Me, a mentoring program targeting Black male college freshmen who are undecided on a major.

Through this program, our district is providing an opportunity for students to discover an interest in serving youth through education. We connect them with Black males who are already teachers and mentor them in hopes the students will discover an interest in serving youth and pursue careers in education. Ultimately, our goal is to hire 25 Black male classroom teachers — well-qualified, urban-minded young men with a passion for education and service to others — by 2027.

But even if we meet that mark, we know effective recruitment solves only half the problem – we must also develop supporting retention strategies to truly change the district’s culture. To gain insights on how to effectively retain teachers of color, we connected with Digital Promise’s Teacher of Color Design Studios, to engage our own teachers of color to create solutions for our particular district. A key takeaway was that teachers of color need to feel empowered to share thoughts and ideas, and maintain continuous involvement in the decision-making process. We made sure that educators who’d be most impacted by this program — our Black male classroom teachers — had a seat at the table. Their voices were instrumental in developing and implementing the teacher retention program.  

It was important for our district to create a culture where Black teachers view themselves as instructional specialists, content experts, and sources of inspiration for our kids, as well as support each other as family. Knowing that we needed all staff members to work toward this common goal, the first step didn’t call for action—we simply wanted staff to become aware of their own individual biases, privileges, and perspectives. We then slowly transitioned to action by offering every single staff member a series of micro-credentials based on diversity, equity and inclusion. Our hope is that this type of professional learning will eventually be hard-wired into the cultural beliefs of our school system and become a part of our overarching strategic vision.  

While we’ve still got a long way to go, we are already experiencing positive outcomes from our initial efforts to change our hiring practices to attract more urban-minded educators and diversify our staff. When we first began tracking our results in 2017, we saw a 5% increase in children participating in extracurricular activities over three consecutive years. More recently, a survey of students in third through 12th grade revealed that 96% said they feel safe when they come to school. With that, we’ve found that students feel more comfortable expressing themselves, and we’re getting better at listening. For instance, students expressed interest in a wider variety of different types of opportunities. In response, one elementary school now offers 15 dynamic after-school programs that change quarterly based on student feedback. 

By developing a positive connection to adults and fostering a sense of belonging, which leads to the confidence to speak up, we believe our children will feel more emotionally safe while they’re at school. When teachers include cultural perspectives in the classroom, students experience greater academic and social-emotional success, ultimately graduating with important skill sets and hopefully eager to get back into education.

Ultimately, the key to success is more school districts nationwide working together to prioritize recruitment and retention of Black teachers. If we can all continue to inspire each other, we can keep creating and sharing new, successful frameworks and models to get more Black teachers into our classrooms.  

Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation provides funding for Digital Promise’s Teacher of Color Design Studios and The 74.

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