We need more BIPOC teachers. Here’s what we can do. > Minnesota

My eight-year-old son has a black teacher for the first time ever. The relationship he develops with her is so beautiful to behold. She inspires and supports him. He beams when she asks him what his favorite book is and beams with pride when he tells her she’s planning to come and see his basketball game.

It’s one thing to know the research studies documenting the importance and impact of teacher diversity—especially for young black students—but to experience it firsthand with your own child is truly remarkable.

For my three boys and other children of color, Minnesota’s educational gap is sobering. New data published in the Nation’s Report Card shows that math and reading test scores in Minnesota have fallen to shocking levels, undoing nearly 30 years of academic achievement.

In Minnesota, the average eighth-grade math score fell to 280 this year from 291 in 2019, one of the largest declines in the country. Math performance for white 9-year-olds fell by five points, but the damage was even greater for Latino and black students (eight points and thirteen points, respectively).

This increases the already existing barriers that students of color face in pursuing careers in STEM subjects. While this gap has always been a problem in Minnesota schools, the pandemic has exacerbated it.

Additionally, student mental health has reached crisis levels over the past year, disproportionately harming children of color.

Central to our journey forward are teachers who work with our students on the front lines every day. In a 2020 paper published by the Science of Learning and Development Alliance, researchers concluded that “the presence and quality of our relationships with teachers may have a greater impact on learning and development than any other factor.”

Here is a suggested way forward to recruit diverse teachers and ensure success for all students:

  1. Remove onerous financial barriers to educator certification, credentialing, and continuing education. We should expand scholarship and loan forgiveness programs and support alternative licensing programs that allow candidates to meet all state requirements for an education at an affordable price while working full-time in a school. In addition, higher financial incentives and salaries could strengthen and improve teacher retention.
  2. Support a diverse pipeline of qualified professionals pursuing a teaching license in Minnesota classrooms. There is a systemic shortage of teachers in the state, especially color teachers. The Minnesota Professional Educators Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) found in its 2021 Teacher Supply and Demand Report that more than half of Minnesota teachers who hold a Tier 3 or Tier 4 license are not currently teaching. Seventy percent of districts report being slightly or severely affected by teacher shortages. And only 5% of full-time teaching hours are filled by teachers of color. To combat this struggle for loyalty, we must support Grow Your Own initiatives that invest in the existing talent within our school buildings and in the wider community.
  3. Invest more in local, multifaceted teacher recruitment initiatives. We need to think outside the box and identify additional, non-traditional avenues—like tutors, volunteers, and mentors—that have already formed bonds with students. Programs like Black Men Teach, ServeMinnesota, and Teach For America Twin Cities are committed to recruiting young people with similar experiences to the students who need them most.
  4. Increase access to and invest more in school-based mental health services Creating inclusive school cultures. Our schools should be places where our teachers and students can contribute their whole selves and feel like they belong. Student mental health reached crisis levels in the past year, disproportionately harming children of color. The pressure on schools to find solutions has never been greater. The US Department of Education found that educators who provide emotional support and build positive relationships impact child and student health, overall psychological well-being, and life satisfaction. Our schools should be places where teachers and students are happy to step into each morning and receive the support they need.

I know the joy and excitement of learning my 8 year old experiences with his teacher. We can and must bring that joy to every child in Minnesota.

Our state motto proclaims L’Etoile du Nord. We are our own North Star. The way forward must be built on what unites us. I believe these unifying steps outlined here will create a future where all children have access to diverse, passionate teachers who are professionally and personally fulfilled in the important work that lies ahead of us all.