Retaining Teachers of Color
Statistics show that teachers of color are leaving the teaching profession at a higher rate than White teachers. The following research-based retention strategies are suggestions for districts to retain all teachers, but have been cited as specifically important for retaining teachers of color.
The retention of teachers of color is a relatively new field of study. The body of research that was used to inform this web page includes The Learning Policy Institute’s “Diversifying the Teaching Profession: How to Recruit and Retain Teachers of Color” (PDF), and The Education Trust article, "If You Listen, We Will Stay" (PDF). The Education Trust’s study was based on focus groups with teachers of color who have left, or plan to leave the teaching profession. The study uncovers some prominent reasons for leaving the classroom which includes feeling undervalued at school sites and lacking sufficient supports and resources. Participants in the study also stated that they lacked the autonomy to offer the curriculum and carry out the pedagogy that would be meaningful for their student population. The following research-based retention strategies are suggestions for districts to retain all teachers, but have been cited as specifically important for retaining teachers of color.
Creating a Positive and Inclusive School Climate/Culture
Aligning a school’s culture and climate to the values that brought teachers of color to the profession in the first place is a proven retention strategy. These values include a focus on the whole child, including students’ social emotional needs, rather than a single-minded focus on standardized exam scores. Teachers of color often value schools that connect to the community, that promote positive racial identities, and that perpetuate a mindset in which staff believe in the promise of students of color. A high proportion of teachers of color want to be of service to the communities in which they teach and want to instill this value of service in their students as well. In addition, teachers of color often want the ability to offer courses about issues relevant to the experiences of underserved communities (i.e., social justice courses). Finally, teachers of color note the importance of providing schoolwide professional development that confronts sensitive conversations around race, social justice, and implicit bias. School environments that uphold and foster these values will be more likely to retain teachers of color.
Strong School Site Leadership
Creating a positive and inclusive school culture requires strong school site leadership. Teachers of color benefit from leaders who empower them to advocate on behalf of their students. Strong leaders provide teachers with the autonomy to teach to their students’ learning styles and invest in materials that are relevant to their students’ lives and experiences. Strong leaders distribute leadership roles to staff and value staff feedback and staff members who advocate for needed change on campuses. Teachers of color also benefit from school leaders who foster strong relationships between teachers, students and the administration and create a family-like atmosphere in which all members feel a sense of belonging.
Teachers of color often bring innovative and culturally diverse teaching practices to their school sites. These practices can broaden the conception and understanding of classroom pedagogy, student learning, and educational equity at the school site level. Educators of color have been leaders in forwarding asset-based approaches to helping students learn. One example is the "warm demander" approach, wherein the teacher requires rigor and achievement while developing relationships grounded in a value for students' socio-emotional and cultural experiences in and out of schools. Teachers of color are part of the ongoing development of critical teaching practices and innovative approaches to pedagogy, such as culturally sustaining pedagogies, hip-hop pedagogy, and the inclusion of youth-based multi-modal literacies. These practices can improve levels of student engagement for all students, not only for students of color.
Strong Induction and Mentorship Programs
Ongoing and strategic professional learning for early career teachers is especially important for retaining teachers of color. In comparison to their White counterparts, teachers of color are more likely to have entered the profession through alternative preparation and certification pathways. These pathways allow an individual to work full-time as a teacher while simultaneously completing their teacher preparation coursework. While alternative pathways eliminate financial barriers for many teachers, these avenues could contribute to lower retention rates because teachers enter the classroom with less preparation.
In addition, teachers of color feel a calling to work in low-income school communities where teacher turnover rates are often higher. A way to mitigate these effects is to ensure that teachers of color are enrolled in strong teacher induction programs and are paired with strong mentors, ideally mentors who are also teachers of color. Teachers that participate in strong induction programs in their first year of teaching are more likely to be retained in the profession during the critical first five years of their career. These mentorships should be designed to sustain after the first two years in the classroom. In addition to mentorship, built-in collaboration time is a key to retention; it benefits all teachers and reduces the isolation that can occur in the teaching profession.
Reconsidering School Closures in Urban Areas
Teachers of color frequently choose to work in schools that already have high turnover rates. During economic downturns, these schools are also more likely to be targeted for closures due to declining enrollment. School closures of this nature then result in a disproportionate rate of teachers of color moving to other school sites involuntarily and even leaving the profession altogether. Rather than closing these schools, districts may consider implementing alternative school improvement measures, such intensive professional learning for teachers and school leaders.
Desiree Carver-Thomas, “Diversifying the Teaching Profession: How to Recruit and Retain Teachers of Color” (PDF), Learning Policy Institute (2018), accessed December 2019.
Larry Ferlazzo, “Response: The Teachers of Color ‘Disappearance Crisis'” , Education Week (2015), accessed December 2019.
“If You Listen, We Will Stay: Why Teachers of Color: Why Teachers of Color Leave and How to Disrupt Teacher Turnover” (PDF), TeachPlus and The Education Trust (2019), accessed December 2019.