When you’re on the sidelines and know the game, you have a unique advantage. You are proficient and have mastered many of the moves you see on the field. The players come to you when they need advice and with precision you have the ability to help them improve their performance. That is how I see my role as an experienced teacher wanting to help new teachers, especially new teachers of color, freshly minted from their teacher prep program.
I was fortunate to have exceptional mentors, both of whom were African American, before and after I received my M.Ed.; but this was not by design. Now twenty years into the profession I look forward to sharing my on-the-job teaching pedagogy with new teachers.
What you learn in teacher prep programs does not bear fruit without the help of an experienced teacher. Often those who look like you or share your culture already know the minefields confronting new teachers—struggling students, demanding administrators, parents, etc.—all of which can overwhelm a new teacher. Having a mentor to help navigate supporting students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and being a teacher of color is imperative for both to succeed.
Teaching is an art and without investing in professional growth opportunities to build new skills critical to their roles (i.e., relevant training, substantive mentorship, etc.), the work districts put in to recruit, develop, and retain excellent teachers, especially teachers of color, will not have the desired impact. This can apply to students too, especially ELLs and students with disabilities in high-poverty schools. Essential support is imperative for successful outcomes (i.e., skill–building, confidence, and graduation rates). Supports that help teachers of color thrive take into account individual needs and cultural differences that shape the values they bring to their work.
Student performance within high-poverty schools suffers most when the curriculum and teachers do not reflect the culture and demographics of the student population. The question then is why aren’t there more teachers of color in the profession? The answers vary but one that stands out: the “pipeline” of new teachers of color entering teaching preparation programs is shrinking. School districts therefore have a responsibility to reverse this trend by shoring up pillars of support so that master teachers in the field can offer the critical help needed for new teachers of color to be successful and reach our most vulnerable population.
Kalimah Rahim has been an AP teacher at New Mission High School in Boston since 2009. She is a founding member of Mass Insight’s Advanced Placement Teachers of Color Advisory Council. Click here to learn about the APTOC Advisory Council.