On Jan. 10, I was prompted to moderate a Twitter chat on mentoring preK-12 teachers. More specifically, it was suggested by two African-American educators, one a school psychologist and another a doctoral student and former educator in special education, to lead a chat on mentoring black educators. Because I teach in higher education, and I teach majority white pre-service and veteran educators, I was already aware of the sense of isolation that many educators of color report experiencing in their school buildings. However, even to my surprise, the #BlackEdu chat on that particular day was probably one of the most fast-paced, emotionally-engaged, and involved chats that I have ever facilitated.
Currently, according to NCES data, in the U.S., teachers who identify as black or African-American, make up less than 7% of public-school teachers. In comparison, white teachers comprise approximately 83% of public-school educators. Of course, as a professor of pre-service and veteran educators, I am aware of the importance and usefulness of mentoring teachers, especially in their first three to five years in the field. However, after the #BlackEdu chat, I have learned that racial/ethnic minority teachers may require a different type of mentorship compared to their white peers. It appears that black practitioners — teachers, school support personnel and administrators — are yearning for mentorship that not only focuses on best practices for curriculum delivery, but also with coping with issues of isolation, diversity and racism.
As the Twitter chat revealed, black teachers: 1) want to be mentored, 2) desire mentor relationships with individuals who are sympathetic to racism in society and schools and 3) feel that their colleagues and supervisors are not empathetic to issues of racism inside and outside of schools. Honestly, I am comfortable with moderating discussions on racism in education and society in general. However, I was not prepared to respond to the emotional scars that black and other non-white teachers were reporting openly and forthrightly in a public space. Again, the chat occurred quickly and was engaged by many new tweeters. Evidently, the topic of black teachers and mentoring was relevant to many online educators. Many black educators at all levels of education appear to feel marginalized and victims — or survivors — of racial discrimination, and feel that the mentor relationship itself could be abusive.
My call to veteran educators, administrators and university faculty is to be more conscientious about how racial identity affects how teachers are perceived as well as how they view the profession. For example, black educators are more likely to be viewed as less competent in the classroom than their colleagues or parents. Additionally, black educators are more likely to view education and schooling as a transformative project, meaning that teachers of color continue to believe that education will gain successful students access to social and economic mobility. These same teachers may view, critique and analyze white teachers as not culturally competent or as culturally insensitive. How will teacher-mentors help black educators develop as professionals, while simultaneously, help them cope with commonplace racial micro-aggressions? These questions are important in a pluralistic democracy where children of color are becoming the majority; thus, the retention of teachers of color is certainly a moral and ethical endeavor in this country.
Venus E. Evans-Winters (@ileducprof), associate professor of education, teaches at Illinois State University in the department of Educational Administration & Foundations and is a faculty affiliate in Women & Gender Studies. She teaches in the areas of educational policy, qualitative research and critical race theory and pedagogy. Her research interests are the schooling experiences of urban children and adolescents, school resilience and cultural-learning communities. She is the author of “Teaching Black Girls: Resiliency in Urban Classrooms” as well as several academic articles and book chapters.