Four Strategies for Recruiting and Supporting Black Teachers

February 8, 2023
Teacher Recruitment and Retention
Equity-Centered Practices
Vincent Gay
Relay staff

There’s no shortage of research that consistently finds benefits for students of color who learn from teachers of color. Studies have found that when students of color are taught by same-race educators, academic outcomes, attendance, social-emotional health, and more increase. The positive impact extends to all students, of course. But from an equity-lens, we have reason to focus on ensuring our BlPOC students have all the support they need to thrive. Fifteen percent of our nation’s students identify as Black, and that number rises to 35.8% in Chicago, where I am based.  And yet, less than 10% of public school teachers identify as Black.  

Then why aren’t we filling our classrooms with teachers of color? Though many school districts are trying, they often feel stymied about how to do it well. This is a priority at Relay Graduate School of Education, where I lead our programs in Illinois. Since launching in 2015, Relay has prepared nearly 550 new teachers in Chicago, with 52% of these teachers identifying as people of color. For perspective, the national average is 35% across all teacher preparation programs, and in Illinois only 18% of classroom teachers identify as people of color.  Additionally, over 80% of Relay Chicago students are focusing on high needs subject areas, including math and science.

Here are some lessons learned, based on our experience:  

Look for talent within your schools

School districts often look to career fairs and recent college graduates for their newest teachers. And yet, there is untapped talent already in the system. Many paraprofessionals and teacher assistants identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and may wish to become teachers, but lack certification. These individuals are great teacher candidates because they already have skills in working with students and a proven commitment to their communities. Schools can partner with organizations who can train and certify their current staff so that they can enter the classroom, ready and eager to teach. For example, when I was a principal in 2016, we were having a very difficult time filling our Special Education positions. Through our partnership with Relay, two of our paraprofessionals earned their master’s degrees and teacher certification. This greatly improved the quality of support we could offer all our students.

Set up a residency program to support new teachers

Residency programs allow new teachers a gradual on ramp and a year of training under a mentor teacher, thus increasing retention and targeted support. Anyone who is interested in teaching can join a residency, but in addition we partner with school systems like Chicago Public Schools and Noble Schools to create  “Grow Your Own” programs, which provide paraprofessionals and teaching assistants a pathway into teaching via a residency program. During their training year residents are still paid a salary by the school district for the work they are already doing in the classroom (helping students, helping the teacher prepare, etc.). In their second year, residents lead their own classrooms. These programs provide potential Black educators the path, support, and financial means to become educators.

Watch Vince Gay talk about residency programs on the nationally syndicated lifestyle magazine TV show, America's Black Forum.

Connect new teachers with culturally responsive training programs

Support new teachers in enrolling in trainings programs with a culturally responsive lens. Culturally responsive teaching is rooted in the premise that students learn more effectively when educators tap into their background, their knowledge, and their experiences in service of their scholastic success. At Relay, this looks like embedding those practices throughout our curriculum.We have seen that both teachers and students are more invested and engaged in content when they see themselves reflected in the material. Additionally, schools of education are not always set up to advise students in ways that are culturally responsive and personalized to their unique needs. As a result, when students deal with stress, traumatic events, and other common struggles, they may not have the support they need to continue in the program and thrive. At Relay, we have set up an advising system designed to see the “whole person” and help them tackle whatever obstacles they face on the path to becoming a teacher. All our advisors are specifically dedicated to advising and trained in a culturally responsive approach – they are not faculty members adding another duty to their plate.

Help students pay for their education

Whether through subsidized tuition or helping teachers apply for financial aid and state grants, keep in mind the challenges teachers face in paying for their training. At Relay, we prioritize this by ensuring graduating students have a low debt balance, through partnership with schools, AmeriCorps, TEACH grants and other types of financial aid.

Ensuring all students have great teachers is always a challenge. It becomes harder when we aim to ensure teachers reflect the students with whom they’re working. But we owe this to our students. We need our students of color to step into their classrooms and be greeted by role models who look like them, and who will give them the tools and support they need to thrive.  

Vincent Gay

Vincent Gay is the Executive Director of Relay Chicago. Prior to Relay, he served as assistant principal and principal in the Noble Network of Schools for over 10 years, and in workforce development-related roles at Citizen Schools and the Heartland Alliance. He started his education career as a high school teacher. Vincent has a bachelor’s degree from Temple University and a master’s in education administration from Montclair State University. He is passionate about early literacy, restorative justice, and education policy.


Sign up for our monthly newsletter for more expert insights from school and system leaders.

Thank you! You are now subscribed to the Relay Blog.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.