Within the K-12 education space, there’s always been a lot of talk about the importance of diversity and equity. And now, as the nation is embroiled in a reckoning over race, there’s a growing urgency around the need to build an educator workforce that is as racially and ethnically diverse as the student body.
But if you’re looking for a teaching job right now, how can you judge whether a prospective employer is truly committed to a culture that actively supports those values? Before you sign a contract, there are plenty of ways to tell, say education experts who champion diversity and equity in school communities.
Add up the numbers.
Breaking down the student and employee demographics in a school district is a direct way to make some significant observations—from the classroom dynamics to who is on the leadership team and how effectively a school retains teachers of color. Even how accessible a district makes information on the racial makeup of its student body and staff can be revealing.
“Data is so important. Find out: Do they transparently show data about the diversity of their teachers? Do they break down teacher retention by race?” said Sydney Morris, co-CEO at nonprofit Educators for Excellence, a teacher-led advocacy organization. If these statistics aren’t readily available, she urges candidates to ask how this information can be obtained.
Look for statements on where a district stands.
Some school districts make publicly available on their websites explicit statements on equity, bias, anti-racism, and other related topics, notes Daman Harris, a principal at Wheaton Woods Elementary School in Montgomery County, Md. Seek out communication such as official policies, comprehensive statements, and reports that assert their positions around and commitment to equity suggests Harris, co-founder of the BOND Project (Building Our Network of Diversity), an initiative in Montgomery County that aims to recruit, develop, empower, and retain male educators of color.
Learn about active strategies to recruit teachers of color.
Morris, of Educators for Excellence, recommends asking prospective employers if they participate in any formal initiatives that encourage individuals of color to join the ranks of its teaching workforce. Examples include Grow Your Own Educator Programs (GYO), which recruit individuals within local communities. These programs focus on developing future teachers from students of color in middle and high school to racially and ethnically diverse paraprofessionals and college graduates with non-teaching degrees already working in the K-12 school system. Other initiatives that can deepen the diversity pool include district partnerships with historically black colleges’ departments of education and teacher loan forgiveness programs.
Examine the hiring process itself.
Taking a close look at a district’s hiring process can shed light on how equitable it is, say experts. The racial makeup of a hiring team can be revealing, as can the race of individuals with authority to hire. Beyond that, whether a district’s administration involves a variety of perspectives in the hiring process provides strong hints about its leadership style in general. “Is it [the hiring committee] only administrators? Parents? Students? Other teachers? Looking for diversity on that committee is really important,” Morris said.
Ask how the district integrates equity and diversity into its operations.
Districts that dedicate policies, initiatives, and staff members to rooting out inequitable practices and closing opportunity gaps make a powerful value statement to both current and prospective employees. To find out, Montgomery County-based Harris recommends asking questions like: What kind of equity training do teachers and leadership receive? Is there a position or department committed to keeping equity a front-burner issue?
Ask for details about the curriculum.
Districts that espouse diversity and inclusion should offer curricula that reflect these principles. And indeed, many districts in recent years have taken a fresh look at long-used textbooks and literature. Such was the case at Upper St. Clair High School in Upper St. Clair, Pa. Despite its predominantly white student and teacher body, Principal Timothy M. Wagner says the school has worked to select curricular materials that accurately reflect the ideals of diversity and inclusion. More recently, book selections whose characters and authors represent diverse backgrounds were added to the literature taught at the school. Two years ago, the school adopted a course exploring the voices and role of women in history and literature.
Wagner suggests that job candidates learn not only what schools are doing to diversify their curriculum, but also who is driving the changes. “When there’s a culture of teacher empowerment, you’re likely to see change,” explained Wagner.
Take a close at the community surrounding the school.
If working in a school that values diversity and equity is important to you, it probably follows that the same is true about where you live. You shouldn’t wait until you accept the job to find out how welcoming a community is, says Stacey McAdoo, a teacher at Little Rock Central High Schoolin Little Rock, Ark.
She suggests that job candidates ask themselves the following questions before accepting a job: How friendly and inviting is the community? What things can people of color do here? Will I have to commute to a different location to have my basic fundamental needs of connection and community met?
“I live and teach in my community. And I know what it felt like to go to the store and see my teachers,” said McAdoo, 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year. “It can be a disconnect.”