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VEA Summit Tackles Issue of Minority Teacher Shortages


If there was any doubt about the importance of VEA's inaugural Teachers of Color Summit, Jahana Hayes erased it during the event's keynote speech.

The 2016 National Teacher of the Year, a high school history teacher in Connecticut, grew up in a housing project, raised by her grandmother. "All my teachers were white, and most of them couldn't have loved me more if I had been their own," Hayes told a hushed crowd of about 250 educators. "But they didn't have the experiences, or the words, to have the conversations I needed to have. I think kids need to ‘see it to be it.’ For a long time, I thought teaching was only something white women did."

The need for more teachers of color is becoming more urgent all the time, and the numbers in Virginia are stark: Nearly one-half of students attending Virginia public schools are minorities, but fewer than one in five teachers is.

Hayes went on to recount how she was haunted for years by a remark she overheard one of her teachers make the day after parent conferences were held at her elementary school. Hayes' grandmother had no driver's license and was unable to attend the conference, which led one teacher to say something, in Hayes’ earshot, about how none of the families in the projects cared about their children's education.

Years later, as President Obama introduced her as the National Teacher of the Year during a White House ceremony, Hayes glanced back at the other honorees from the other 49 states and U.S. territories. "I could count on the fingers of one hand the number who were minorities," she said. "That's what this field looks like."

Today, Hayes spends her time in the classroom trying to strike a balance between excelling in her chosen profession and making it clear to all her students that they can succeed. "We have to know the students sitting in front of us and include them in the conversation about their education," she said. "The need to be reminded every day of the beauty, intelligence and talents they possess. They need to know that even if I'm the only one, I believe in them and in their ability to succeed."

The Teachers of Color Summit, designed by VEA to call attention and seek solutions to the mismatch between students and teachers of color, drew classroom teachers, district human resources directors, building administrators and others to Richmond for work VEA President Jim Livingston called “a moral imperative.”

Angela Owens, a member of the Prince William Education Association and a middle school principal, came on behalf of her students. “I want to recruit—and sustain—the finest and most diverse educators I can for them,” she said, noting that her school’s student population is about one-third black, one-third Hispanic and one-third white.

Virginia State University student and education major Amber Collins came to have her educational outlook reinforced. “We talk about ‘urban’ schools,” she said, “and it often means a school with mostly minority students where a lot of teachers are scared to teach. I hope to teach in a diverse environment someday and I want to address cultural differences in a sensitive way.”

In addition to hearing from speakers including Hayes and former NEA President Reg Weaver, Summit attendees had the opportunity to attend workshop sessions on topics including meeting the needs of minority educators once they’re hired, the importance of teaching race and social justice issues, strategies for recruiting and retaining excellent teachers of color, and managing college debt. They also had ample chances to hear and swap personal stories.

A panel discussion about minority teacher preparation programs at two colleges and one high school opened the Summit, which closes this weekend with a gala reception honoring the 50th anniversary of the merger between the Virginia Education Association and the Virginia Teachers Association, followed by a morning of solution-seeking roundtable discussions.

To see photos of the Summit, visit www.flickr.com/photos/veacomm



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