Current working conditions for teachers in schools are “extremely racialized,” Griffin said, and schools “need to understand the nuances of these experiences to retain teachers.”
Consider discipline. Many of the teachers said they felt more able than colleagues to manage their classrooms. As one teacher (the report does not include names so that teachers would feel comfortable sharing their experiences) said:
I didn’t have to get loud or do anything. It was just, I had a no- nonsense kind of attitude, where it’s a lot of nonverbal cues. ‘I expect more from you.’ You know, it was just, it’s a different vibe than other teachers, where they kind of make excuses, and ‘Oh, I can’t handle you. I’m afraid of you. I want you to be my friend.’ No. They’re going to respect me.
Yet black teachers said that very ability to manage a classroom meant they were then viewed primarily as disciplinarians and not as educators—as the report notes, “a reductive stereotype that we heard throughout the focus groups. These teachers were assumed to be tough and strict instead of being able to connect to their students and use that connection to establish order and create a classroom environment conducive to learning.”
In other words, the strengths that many black teachers possess and would like to use to benefit children of all backgrounds are the very traits used to limit their professional growth. (The report doesn’t say so directly, but that pigeonholing seems to have as much to do with white teachers feeling unprepared or unwilling to handle certain scenarios as it does with believing black teachers are capable of only certain tasks.)
It’s also worth noting a fact that black teachers indicate is widely overlooked by schools: Just because a teacher is black does not mean that he or she is going to relate to every black student’s experience. No one would assume that a white teacher relates to every white student, but the absurdity doesn’t necessarily register with school officials who may be blinded by stereotypes. As one teacher said, “We become the representative for every child of color, I mean, whether we relate to them, whether our culture is the same or not. We become the representative for all of those children.”
That’s exhausting, particularly when black teachers feel that their colleagues are unwilling to recognize their ability to also be subject-matter experts with valuable ideas about pedagogy and curriculum. One teacher said:
I’ve put in a lot of work, and there are a lot of things that I’ve implemented and have shared with other people and other teachers, and then they get the credit. And I told one of my co-workers — it’s been recently, and she is a white coworker, and she recognized it, too — and I told her, ‘It’s starting to piss me off, because I’m putting in this work, and someone else is getting recognized for something that they really didn’t do, or someone else is looking to be more qualified with less years and less time in the position.’