Opinion

Because black teachers are critical to the success of black students, we need to work even harder to recruit and retain them, says urban educator and author Rann Miller, who has followed his own alternative teaching path.


When I was a child, I did not plan to become a teacher. In fact, teaching was not considered an option. My plan was to become a lawyer.

But a funny thing happened in my first year of law school: I realized I didn’t like it enough to commit to it. I left law school and went to graduate school, where I earned my master’s degree. During my studies there, one of my professors—Gail Brooks, who remains my mentor—said to me, “You’d be a great teacher. We need more black people in our classrooms.”

To quote Charlie Wilson of GAP fame, she “dropped a bomb on me.”

I have worked with K-12 students throughout college in various jobs. I was still working with students once I graduated. However, it never occurred to me to consider teaching as a profession. What I realized, though, is that, unlike law school, I had quite the passion for the commitment to teaching—and that It is a commitment

Since making the decision to become an educator 12 years ago through a non-traditional path, I haven’t looked back. It’s truly the best decision I’ve ever made professionally.

Right now, Pennsylvania faces a teacher shortage, as do other states across the country. ten years ago Applicant recently reported, the state has certified 20,000 teachers; last year, it certified only 6,000. Is a 70 percent decrease. Additionally, between December 1, 2021 and February 15, 2022, the number of Philadelphia teachers who walked off the job increased by 200%. Because of numbers like these, much thought has been given to teacher recruitment and retention—especially black teachers.

Why black teachers? Because teachers of color are critical to the success of students of color. The research is clear: black students who had at least one black teacher are more likely graduate from high school and to show up, frequency faculty and less likely to drop out of school. Black students are also less likely to be disciplined at the hands of a black teacher than a white one.

One strategy that school districts should consider, if they haven’t already, is recruiting non-teaching candidates. This can be a particularly effective strategy for recruiting teachers of color.

A few weeks ago, I encouraged those with the power to do so to recruit black faculty from historically black colleges and universities, noting that for every black education major who graduates from a non-HBCU, 17 black education majors graduate from HBCUs. This is the obvious first step. But that alone will not solve the problem. Recruiters should also look for non-education majors graduating from HBCUs to fill vital roles in classrooms.

Some of the hardest faculty positions to fill, at least in my experience in education, are those for science and math teachers. Hiring black teachers to fill those vacancies is a no-brainer. However, a constant refrain among people in the school district is that they don’t know where to find such teachers. This is often because they are looking for Black Professors in those fields, as opposed to thinking outside the box and recruiting non-educational majors—in this case, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors.

Twenty five percent of Black graduates with STEM degrees are from HBCUs. Since the 1990s, 50 percent of black physicians came from HBCUs. Therefore, the alternative (a good alternative) to recruiting Black teacher candidates at HBCUs is to recruit STEM majors who might want to consider a second career that impacts children’s lives by using their expertise (and culture).

Recruiters should also look to professionals of color in various fields to find potential faculty—from HBCUs and non-HBCUs alike.

People unfamiliar with teaching may think they need an education or teaching degree to teach. Not true. My bachelor’s degree is not in teaching. But I was able to participate in a program that serves as a way to enter the teaching profession: an alternative route program. These programs are designed to help people who already have college degrees obtain teaching certification. According at the National Center for Education Statistics, 13 percent of U.S. teachers who enter the profession through an alternative pathway are black, while only five percent who enter through a traditional pathway are.

Alternative pathway programs are available for prospective teachers, but it is up to district leaders to focus on recruiting teachers of color from non-academic and non-academic fields. The fact that a higher percentage of black teachers than non-black teachers are entering classrooms through these programs is proof that this is a strategy that more school districts need to employ.

It comes down to districts hiring non-traditional black teachers.

All you need to be employed as a teacher is a certificate of eligibility, which you can obtain by passing a teaching exam, obtaining a university degree and paying a fee. Once you are employed, the state department of education will automatically enroll you in its alternative route program. But again, school district leaders must commit to recruiting and hiring professionals of color and recent graduates with non-teaching degrees.

As an alum of the alternative route, I can attest that many of my colleagues were teachers of color and other teachers of color. It was heartening to see and a reminder that we they are here, even if we enter in a non-traditional way. But we are here because someone believed in us enough to introduce us to teaching as a career.

At this point, let’s believe enough in black people to do the same.


Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives and a social studies teacher for a charter school district in New Jersey. A freelance writer, which he founded Urban Education Mixtapessupporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools and is the author Black History Stories of Resistance for Children, coming in February 2023.

By philcp

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