Self-Care Is Only One Critical Element To Retain Black Teachers

Mar 13, 2024 4:26:17 PM

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Black teachers matter, especially for Black students. Ample research has made it irrefutable that Black teachers have a profoundly positive impact on their Black students. 

These benefits include improved test scores, a greater sense of belonging, and higher college enrollment rates. Why? On average, Black teachers employ good teaching practices, have positive mindsets about Black students, and form affirming relationships with Black students. Black teachers also tend to hold higher expectations for Black students, believing in their intellectual capability, which leads to more confident students with a greater sense of agency.

With all the positive impact that Black teachers create, it’s alarming how few of them are in K-12 education. Black teachers make up about 6% of the public education workforce, and this representation mismatch presents quite a problem for Black students across the nation. With many teachers leaving the field of education each year, it is paramount to think of ways to retain Black teachers to prevent an even wider gap in representation. Before we start digging into solutions, we must first understand the root cause of the issue.

Imagine this experience of a Black administrator and former classroom teacher. She often arrived at school before the sunrise and left long after the sunset. Throughout the day, she crisscrossed the campus from classroom to classroom, coaching teachers, interacting with students, handling behavioral issues, and other activities that pushed her cognitive activity to the limit. 

Sometimes, she barely had time to eat or sit down and rest for a minute. Most of her to-do list was left unchecked at the end of each day, and she added more tasks. She lived in a constant state of urgency. 

Like most educators, she loved her career and wanted to be successful because she believed her role could positively change the trajectories of the students she served. She didn’t realize the toll stress was taking on her until she ended up in the emergency room. That experience was a turning point for reflecting on her future in education.

This experience may sound familiar to many educators. There is an extra layer of stress that is unique to Black educators who may find themselves in toxic or hostile work environments where colleagues insist they play the stereotypical roles society assigns to Black women — strong, sassy, easily angered, and motherly. 

Black teachers also deal with other inequities in the workplace, such as being overlooked for leadership opportunities, having someone else take credit for their work, and working in environments that are not culturally responsive.

Black teachers often feel forced to grapple with inequities inside their school building and in the broader world outside of education. The weight they carry is difficult for non-Black teachers to understand. Research shows that long-term stress and trauma responses can lead to irreversible health consequences.

For Black educators, recognizing these issues, relieving stress, and increasing self-care is critical for their success. Since the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted our world and shifted how we educate, there has been a heightened awareness about teachers’ social-emotional needs and self-care with tools and strategies, such as deep breathing, massage therapy, aromatherapy, and finding safe spaces to share feelings. 

As the saying goes, “You can’t pour into someone else from an empty cup.”

Self-care as a regular practice is urgent for Black educators, but is it enough to keep them in classrooms? I am a self-care advocate. I’ve been that burned-out educator, so I put self-care on the table for educators and encourage educators to incorporate self-care in the classroom. However, I’m aware that using self-care techniques while working in environments perpetuating inequitable systems can be futile. If school districts fail to address the root causes of trauma and stress for Black teachers, then we’ll never truly right this inequity. School districts need to cultivate environments that will support the retention of Black educators and create better teaching and learning spaces for educators and students.

My book, “The Equity Expression: Six Entry Points for Nonnegotiable Academic Success,” is written for educators who want to make equity actionable in ways that will help them stay engaged and motivated in their careers. 

In the book, I describe six entry points: mindsets, relationships, products, spaces, processes, and systems. These serve as a guide for deliberate and productive planning that inspires equitable change.

Maintaining and increasing the number of Black educators is an important factor in ensuring that Black students have access to a high-quality education. While self-care is an important part of the puzzle, it is not the only piece.

Fenesha Hubbard

Fenesha Hubbard has been leading K–12 professional development for 21 years. Her field experience includes teaching, instructional coaching, workshop facilitation, and designing professional development for NWEA and Chicago Public Schools. She is the author of The Equity Expression: Six Entry Points for Nonnegotiable Academic Success.

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