Local schools struggle to find enough Black teachers for diversity goals

Lack of diversity among the teaching ranks for Butler County schools has been a long-standing problem.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

While the student population in Ohio is increasingly diverse, both locally and nationally, most teachers are still white women, a Journal-News analysis of state education data found.

For students of color, this matters because seeing a figure in their everyday lives who looks like them can be key for building relationships. Black male teachers are in demand to show young Black men a model for success, experts said.

For white students, being taught by teachers who don’t look like them can show different perspectives and expose them to someone different from themselves.

“Teachers from different backgrounds can dispel stereotypes and biases formed and perpetuated in monolithic communities,” said Devon Berry, human resources director for West Carrollton and a former teacher. “Diverse teachers bring first-hand knowledge to students that better prepare them for an ever-increasing pluralistic society.”

This is why for teachers’ unions, education colleges and school districts, recruiting and retaining a diverse group of teachers, in particular Black men, has become increasingly important. But success has been limited.

About 91% of teachers in Ohio are white, according to the Ohio Department of Education. About 4% of teachers are Black, and less than 1% of teachers identified as either Asian-American, Native American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander or Hispanic, while about 3% of teachers identified as more than one race or declined to answer.

By comparison, about 68% of Ohio’s students are white, while 17% are Black, about 7% are Hispanic, about 6% are multiracial, about 3% are Asian-American and less than 1% are Native American, according to ODE.

The lack of diversity among the teaching ranks for Butler County schools and other districts in the region has been a long-standing problem and one made worse since March 2020 by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, said area school leaders.

With waves of older teachers retiring or otherwise departing the classroom during the pandemic years, teacher shortages – regardless of their race – have worsened, they said.

Jennifer Moore, a veteran Black teacher of 17 years who now is a 1st grade instructor at Fairfield West Elementary, said she is concerned by the continued trend of relatively low numbers of Black and other minority instructors in the classroom.

“It’s important because we can all learn from each other because we all come from different backgrounds and we can all bring something to the table,” said Moore, who is also part of Fairfield Schools’ now decade-old minority teacher hiring and retention committee.

“When you really think about it — and just being honest — a lot of time, for young children, the only (racial) diversity they may have in the short time of their life may be their teacher because of the pool of people in their family may not be diverse,” said Moore of some of the predominantly white student enrollment in the 10,000-student school system.

“So the fact that they have a teacher of color can let them know them and see people who don’t look like you … doing good things. We’re all in a melting pot and we can learn from each other.

It was a pandemic-motivated change in a classroom teaching approach by Hamilton Schools that helped attract University of Cincinnati and now second-year elementary teacher Naomi Miller to take a job with the city schools.

Hamilton’s team of recruiters, like those from other area districts, are regular participants in college job fairs at local universities and regional historically Black colleges and those nationwide as they aggressively recruit minorities entering the teaching profession to come work for them.

Because of Hamilton’s recruiting, Miller learned about the district’s use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to install two teachers per classroom in younger grades to better recover from the academic lags caused by the pandemic’s disruptions since March 2020.

“I really love working on a team, especially in a classroom,” said the 23-year-old Miller, who is a 3rd grade teacher at Riverview Elementary.

Hamilton Schools’ increasing student diversity, which has seen Black student enrollment rise from single digits in recent years to nearly 13% in 2022, also attracted her.

“It’s a good fit for me,” said Miller, who added “it’s important for (minority) kids to have teachers that look like them.”

“When I was growing up, I didn’t have many teachers that looked like me. It shows (minority) kids the power of what they can become and how it doesn’t depend on what you look like.”

A diversity problem

Experts say having a diverse group of teachers brings different perspectives to the education world, reflects students’ experiences better and can expose students to new ideas.

“It’s interesting that we remain in a profession that doesn’t reflect the population that it serves and inherently ingrained in that is a disconnect,” said Rochonda Nenonene, an education professor at the University of Dayton whose work, along with fellow education professor Novea McIntosh, centers around training new teachers to be culturally responsive.

Nenonene noted there is research showing that white teachers can view Black students from a deficit perspective. While she stressed not all white teachers do that, it is important, she said, to train all young teachers to understand cultural differences and respond to them, while simultaneously increasing the number of teachers entering the profession who are not white.

“Even if it’s unintentional, bias is still bias; even if it’s an unintentional microaggression, it is still a microaggression,” she said.

That can have long-term academic impacts on the student, she said, as those students may miss out on opportunities because the teacher just isn’t offering them to certain students.

It’s a problem shared by local districts for decades but one receiving more focus and resources in recent years among area schools, said Chris Brown, superintendent for the Butler County Educational Services Center (BCESC), which serves all public schools countywide, including some in Warren and Hamilton counties, through hiring teachers and other school personnel for member districts.

Ideally, said Brown, as the percentages of Black and other minority student enrollment expands, so too should the number of minority teachers.

“Here at the BCESC we strive to hire as many teachers, teaching assistants, home visitors, etc. as possible that look like those that we serve. In our Head Start and preschool classrooms we serve many students from all over the world. It is important that we provide as many role models as possible to all of our students.”

Diversifying in college

Getting a more diverse teaching workforce is complicated. Multiple institutions of higher education, including the University of Dayton, Wright State University, Sinclair Community College, Central State University and Miami University are working together to help diversify the teaching profession by recruiting people into the profession young, in high school and middle school.

Drakeford said Central State’s online education program could also help recruit more teachers of color, and CSU is working with several area schools, including Dayton Public Schools and Trotwood-Madison, to develop pipelines for students in high school and middle school to consider teaching as a profession and take classes in high school to prepare.

Teachers’ unions, including the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers, have prioritized recruiting more people of color into the profession.

Melissa Cropper, president of the OFT, said a program through the OFT in Cleveland is focused on recruiting more Black men into the teaching profession, mostly pulling on the existing groups of paraprofessionals — school staff with an associate’s degree in education — to complete a bachelor’s degree in teaching.

A similar program has been proposed for Dayton Public Schools, where Dayton paraprofessionals could finish their degrees in education and become teachers in Dayton Public Schools through Central State University.

Middletown Schools already have such a program.

The new “Admiral Squad” program started last fall designed to bring together Black men in the district in an organized fashion to encourage boys and adults to consider teaching and eventually adding to the relatively few number of Black male teachers in the 6,300-student city schools with about 19% Black enrollment.

Of 768 total teachers and classroom support staff in Middletown, 566 are female and 202 are men. Of the female teachers and support staff, 29 or 5% are Black and of the males 37 teachers or support staff, or 18%, are Black.

The group is also designed to help attract and retain Black instructors, said Kee Edwards, assistant director of human resources for Middletown Schools.

“We have about 32 admirals. We plan to take a few Admirals with us to (college) job fairs. The plan is to grow our presence as a collective in an effort to show other African American males we have a place for them to belong,” said Edwards.