In the wake of calls for social justice during the Summer of 2020, 73 is a number that I’ve been thinking a lot about. That’s because, in 73% of Colorado’s school districts, there is not one Black educator. That’s right, I said districts. As Director of Recruitment and Alumni Engagement for the PEBC Teacher Residency, I am wanting students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to look to the front of their classrooms and see talented educators of color. Not only would this enrich the lives of students, but it will also benefit practicing educators to work alongside a diverse group of colleagues.
At PEBC Teacher Residency, there is still work to be done. The percentage of teacher residents across the state who identify as people of color roughly mirrors the Colorado teacher workforce at large. To increase the number of talented teachers of color in Colorado’s workforce, PEBC has launched new initiatives to remove barriers that limit access to teacher licensure and support pre-service teachers of color once they enter our Residency.
Our first step in designing these initiatives was to acknowledge the challenges people of color face in access to and retention in the teaching profession. Brianna Mestas, PEBC’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, notes:
There are real barriers for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) entering the teaching profession. Not only does this impact teacher representation within K-12 classrooms across the state, this impacts representation of educators of color in various other roles that are often dependent on one’s experience in the classroom such as: instructional coaches, teacher educators and school leadership. We need educators of color, with experiential knowledge in the classroom, throughout the field. Classroom teaching experience opens up various pathways to broadly diversify the field of education. Colorado needs the brilliance, passion, and knowledge of educators of color.
Some of the barriers that we at PEBC identified include the ability to take and pass licensure exams, navigating the process of enrolling in teacher residency programs and the feeling of isolation that one might experience in a White-majority profession.
To address these challenges, PEBC is partnered with TEACH Colorado to provide one-on-one coaching for interested candidates to navigate the process of applying to the PEBC Teacher Residency. Annette Konoske-Graf, Senior Program Manager for TEACH Colorado, states:
TEACH Colorado is proud to work alongside PEBC to diversify the teaching profession. When teachers reflect the racial and cultural diversity of their students, all students’ lives improve—from increased graduation rates to greater career aspirations and higher incomes. We know that applying to a teacher preparation program can be daunting, from application fees to required exams. By providing free, one to one support from educator coaches and application fee reimbursements, to offering scholarship opportunities and testing guides, TEACH Colorado supports future PEBC residents as they navigate the application process. With our partnership, we strive to recruit a diverse pool of future teachers who can create the conditions that lift up communities.
In addition to providing this individualized level of admissions support from TEACH Colorado, PEBC also offers one free month of online preparation for the teacher licensure (Praxis) exam to all residency candidates interested in joining our 2021-2022 cohorts.
A second group of PEBC initiatives is designed to support our residents of color once they join the Teacher Residency. While we recognize that the residency model itself, with its emphasis on mentorship and cohort support, provides an amazing level of scaffolding to those entering the teaching profession, we acknowledge that the experiences of educators of color are unique. This year, PEBC Teacher Residency launched its first ever affinity group for residents of color throughout our four urban and rural cohorts in Colorado. Tiffany Askins, a middle school teacher in Denver Public Schools and PEBC Teacher Residency alumnae was selected to lead this work. In an open invitation to current residents of color, Askins stated:
When we share our experiences, we are not only learning from one another but we learn we are not alone. Being a part of this affinity group will give us a safe space to just be our true, authentic selves without judgment, without falling into the role that society has assigned us to. We can show up as Black and Brown people and discuss issues that we have experienced, we are experiencing and we will experience in education.
The group meets monthly and is currently open to any current PEBC Teacher Resident who identifies as a person of color with hopes of inviting early career alumni in the near future. In addition to this affinity group, PEBC is pleased to be partnering with Profound Gentlemen, a national organization whose mission is to support current and aspiring male educators of color, a group that makes up only two percent of educators nationwide. According to Jason Terrell, Profound Gentlemen’s Executive Director, “Racial equity sits at the core of our organization’s purpose. We know that it takes a collective effort to create sustainable systemic change in the education profession; we are grateful for the partnership with PBEC as we build an education system that all students and educators across Colorado deserve”.
In the PEBC Teacher Residency, we talk about the power of using inclusive language in the classroom. “We” language creates student buy-in, it signals that we are a community of learners — teachers and students alike, and it is also a recognition that together, we can achieve more than any one individual.
Getting more teachers of color in classrooms across the United States will be a team effort. Here are two tangible ways you can help:
- If you know someone who would make a great teacher, and especially if you know a person of color who wants to impact student’s lives, refer them to the PEBC Teacher Residency. The journey to the classroom starts with this free application. Interested candidates can learn more about our program by registering for one of our free, monthly, virtual informational sessions.
- To support the work that PEBC is doing to recruit and retain teachers of color, consider making a donation to this work.