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At VEA Conference, Educators Strategize Building Minority Teacher Workforce


When it was time for her son to register for kindergarten, Norfolk teacher Tamu Crisden visited her neighborhood school, where she saw a display of staff photos. “There wasn’t one black teacher, administrator, or even cafeteria worker,” she said. “So he went to the school down the street, the one other parents were trying to get their kids out of. They had at least a few black staff members there, and I know it has an impact.”

Today, her son is 14 and, Crisden says, has greatly benefited from being in schools with teachers and others who look like him. “He loves his white teachers,” she said, “but to see black educators means everything. He knows he’s not alone.”

Stories like that are why VEA held its third conference on Recruiting and Retaining Teachers of Color, this time in February at Norfolk State University. There, Leah Dozier Walker, the Virginia Department of Education’s director of equity and community engagement, told participants that students of color now make up 51 percent of the state’s public school population, but that 82 percent of our teachers are white.

“Students of all colors and nationalities need a role model,” said Dr. Toney McNair, a Chesapeake Education Association member and Virginia’s 2017 Teacher of the Year. “They need someone they can develop a relationship with—it will help them be both better students and better individuals.”

More than 150 teachers, college students, administrators, and human resources professionals spent the day on the NSU campus in sessions on topics that included using the media to recruit minority teachers, interesting young black males in education careers, prepping candidates for Praxis tests, “grow-your-own” programs, supporting culturally responsive school climates, and retaining minority teachers through instructional coaching.
 
Participants also heard keynote speaker John B. Gordon, III, Chief of Schools for Chesterfield County, offer three questions for their contemplation: What can you do differently? How do you sell this profession? How can you support minority educators now?

“We must confront the problem of disproportionate representation,” VEA President Jim Livingston told the crowd, “and VEA continues to lead both the dialogue on this issue and the search for solutions.”

NSU senior Lonniel Swinton, who will be entering the public school teaching workforce soon, knows those solutions are needed. “I didn’t see a teacher who looked like me until high school,” he said, “but he made me see that I can do this because I have a model.”

SVEA Vice President Morgan Brown, a senior at Old Dominion University, is also ready to be part of growing the percentages of minority teachers in our schools. “My mother was often the only teacher of color in her building,” she said. “I saw her make a home for many students who needed one and I want to do that, too.”

VEA Executive Director Brenda Pike closed the conference with a challenge for attendees. “Ask yourself: What can I do? What do I have the power to do with something I learned today?” she said. “How do I help move what we’ve talked about today to the next level?”

To see more photos from the conference, visit www.flickr.com/veacomm.


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