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Creating Safe Spaces: Future Teachers of Color Summit

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Gabriel Gutiérrez, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Ferial Pearson, University of Nebraska at Omaha 

Derrick Nero, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Sandra Rodríguez-Arroyo, University of Nebraska at Omaha


Key Statement: Initiatives to recruit and retain Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) teachers are needed nationwide. This article describes a Future Teachers of Color Summit.

Keywords: BIPOC Teacher Candidates, Recruitment, Retention, Teacher Preparation


The Issue

In 2021, most U.S. public school teachers were White (80%), while White students accounted for only 46% of elementary and secondary school populations (NCES, 2023).  Consequently, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) students comprise 54% of the total school population. In our state, K–12 BIPOC students are increasing (37% of the population in 2021–2022; NDE, 2023a), but the shortage of BIPOC teachers is also growing, as White teachers constituted 95% of the workforce that same year (NDE, 2023b).


Research shows that having BIPOC teachers benefits BIPOC students, providing numerous positive protective factors (Burciaga & Kohli, 2018; Easton-Brooks, 2019; Morales et al., 2022; Wright et al., 2017). As our university supplies teachers to the city’s majority-minority schools through our teacher preparation program (TPP), we must recruit and retain BIPOC teacher candidates. Although nationwide efforts are necessary, we must establish local initiatives directly supporting our BIPOC teacher candidates (Kohli, 2018; Valenzuela, 2017). We address this issue through a Future Teachers of Color (FToC) Summit.





Our Why

The faculty involved in this project identify as BIPOC teacher educators. We are five out of nine BIPOC faculty in the same teacher education department, and, as such, we often are asked or “voluntold” to do this as part of our higher education service duties. However, we chose to do this project because of our experiences being BIPOC from various backgrounds in predominantly White education spaces. As higher education BIPOC and first-generation faculty, we knew it was essential that future teacher candidates have a connection to people at the university they feel can understand them; we all come from widely different backgrounds and can ensure that this need is met. As BIPOC people, we know deeply and personally what it is to be marginalized, left out, and not be seen as equal to or as capable as our counterparts. Hence, we are passionate about equity and inclusion for anyone of any background who is treated and feels this way.



What Worked

Structure

The development of the FToC Summit began with our planning team, which included BIPOC teacher educators who represented diverse identity groups and educational experiences. In January 2020, we secured $3,000 to fund the FToC Summit; however, the pandemic caused the event to go virtual. While not ideal, it meant we did not have to fund transportation and food and had more funds to compensate presenters. For planning purposes, we utilized our personal and professional networks to secure presenters, and our pre-service BIPOC leaders in our student-led Teacher Education Diversity Organization (TEDO) were session facilitators.


The FToC Summit was held over two days via Zoom and was open to the state’s high school students and teacher candidates. Thirty participants joined on the first night, including students and faculty from different universities, high school students, community members, and a State Board of Education member. All participants self-identified as BIPOC. The next day, most participants from the night before re-joined us and added more students. The new participants also self-identified as BIPOC. Participants heard from other BIPOC educators (including our State Teacher of the Year and former TPP students and faculty) in breakout sessions, a keynote presentation, and a teacher panel. The main highlight was the town hall sessions; during the first, students engaged in critical dialogue to identify barriers they encountered in their programs. Students addressed those barriers during the second town hall and collaborated to begin planning ways to overcome them. Finally, participants completed a post-summit evaluation.


The second summit was held in person at the university and took into consideration feedback from the participants at the first summit. The format of town hall sessions, keynote speakers, the panel, and the evaluation was maintained but included “well-seasoned” food on both days from local BIPOC caterers. The first night remained focused on community-building, and we began with a theater of the oppressed session with exercises led by Dr. Miguel Gutiérrez, a longtime practitioner of Augusto Boal’s work.



Takeaways


A Sense of Belonging

The FtoC Summit aimed to (a) foster a sense of belonging and connection among teacher candidates and (b) increase the number of BIPOC students pursuing a career in education. Participants did express a sense of belonging; one high school student who attended the virtual summit later joined our TPP program and was an organizer for the second summit. Other participants mentioned the strength of our teaching program and the support they felt, increasing their confidence in pursuing a teaching career at our university.


BIPOC Teacher Identity and Empowerment

Participants at the summit expressed a sense of empowerment. One teacher candidate acknowledged the “power, privilege, and honor” of being a future teacher of Color. Another found motivation and inspiration from seeing a woman of her color contribute to the summit.


As summit coordinators, we presented the barriers and potential solutions identified by students during the town halls to the department and college leadership. The participants’ comments became integral to our department's strategic planning session. We hope these changes will aid in recruiting and retaining BIPOC teacher candidates.


Organic Mentorship

We aimed to provide students with access to support resources. A high school participant emphasized the importance of representation, feeling motivated by witnessing people of Color succeed and realizing their potential. Another student expressed the value of connecting with peers who understand their experiences and can offer guidance. At the second summit, teachers from the panel engaged directly with participants, exchanging contact information. College students, including first-generation BIPOC students, encouraged high schoolers to ask questions and share their honest experiences navigating a predominantly White educational system.


Challenges

As we planned and implemented the summit, we realized that we should prioritize disseminating information to targeted students, bearing in mind their work/out-of-school responsibilities and/or lack of transportation. It was important that summit planners and schools coordinate bus transportation, and the summit should occur during the school day. Finally, we knew it was crucial to center student voices while planning, which can be difficult with such busy student schedules.



Future Plans

In the short term, our goals include raising awareness of our program and the summit, increasing BIPOC student participation at the collegiate and high school levels, and conducting self-efficacy studies to evaluate the summit’s impact and institutional support for BIPOC students. In the long term, we aim to expand the presence of BIPOC teachers in K–12 schools and establish our program as a sustainable model for their recruitment and retention, garnering national and international recognition.



Recommendations for Replicating the Future Teachers of Color Summit

Creating inclusive and supportive environments for BIPOC students in higher education is a critical step toward addressing the persistent racial disparities in the teaching profession and many other professions. Based on the successful implementation of the FToC Summit, there are several recommendations for current higher education faculty and administrators to recreate similar initiatives on their campuses (see Table 1).



By implementing these recommendations, higher education institutions can play a pivotal role in creating safe spaces for future teachers and faculty of Color, fostering a sense of belonging, empowering students, and, ultimately, addressing the urgent need for increased representation of BIPOC teachers in the education system. Through collaborative efforts and a commitment to inclusivity, universities can contribute significantly to building a diverse and culturally responsive teaching workforce, positively impacting the educational experiences of all students.

 


Discussion Questions

  1. What are some barriers to BIPOC students considering a career in education?

  2. What pathways already exist for BIPOC students that can be leveraged in planning and enabling participation in a summit like this one?

  3. How can personal experiences, authentic storytelling, and interactions with diverse role models increase confidence, motivation, and aspirations among BIPOC students pursuing careers in education?

 


References

Burciaga, R., & Kohli, R. (2018). Disrupting whitestream measures of quality teaching: The community cultural wealth of teachers of color. Multicultural Perspectives, 20(1), 5–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/15210960.2017.1400915


Easton-Brooks, D. (2019). Ethnic matching: Academic success of students of color. Rowman & Littlefield.


Kohli, R. (2018). Lessons for teacher education: The role of critical professional development in teacher of color retention. Journal of Teacher Education, 70(1), 39–50. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022487118767645 


Morales, A. R., Gallardo, M. C., & Hamann, E. (2022, April). Fuerza en la solidaridad: Co-creation of critical affinity groups with pre-/in-service BIPoC teachers resisting in White spaces. Paper presented at the Annual American Education Research Association (AERA) international conference in San Diego, CA.


National Center for Education Statistics. (2023). Characteristics of public school teachersCondition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/clr.


Nebraska Department of Education. (2023a). Nebraska public schools snapshot: Student race/ethnicity (2021-2022). https://nep.education.ne.gov//State/Index/00-0000-000?DataYears=20212022&type=state#demographics


Nebraska Department of Education. (2023b). Nebraska public schools snapshot: Race/Ethnicity (2021-2022). https://nep.education.ne.gov//State/Index/00-0000-000?DataYears=20212022&type=state#demographics#teachers


Valenzuela, A. (2017). Grow your own educator programs: A review of the literature with an emphasis on equity-based approaches. Intercultural Development Research Association.


Wright, A., Gottfried, M. A., & Le, V.-N. (2017). A kindergarten teacher like me: The role of student-teacher race in social-emotional development. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1), 78S-101S. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831216635733



About the Authors






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