By Contributor on January 15, 2014

By Nekita Lamour

We need more teachers of color in our schools. But the obsession with testing and other fads have sent many black teachers packing.

Take Chicago. The share of African-American teachers in the Chicago public schools went down from 45 percent in 1995 to 19 percent in 2012, according to a September 2012 Reuters article.

In the last few years, the drop has been most dramatic. According to the Chicago Alliance of Urban School Educators, Chicago public schools had 8,000 to 9,000 black teachers in 2010, but only 2,500 in 2013.

And in Massachusetts, fewer than 3 percent of the teachers are African-American, according to research by the Center for American Progress.

Meanwhile, the student population in public schools across the country is increasingly made up of kids of color.

"Nationally, minority students make up 40.7 percent of the public school population," the 2011 study by the Center for American Progress revealed. "Although many schools (both urban and rural) are increasingly made up of a majority of black and Latino students, black and Latino teachers represent only about 14.6 percent of the teaching work force. And in urban and high-poverty schools where minority teachers are disproportionately employed, teaching staffs are still predominately composed of white teachers."

Black teachers are underrepresented not because of any lack of competency. "Teachers of color have demonstrated success in increasing academic achievement for engaging students of similar backgrounds," the study found.

Putting more teachers of color in the classrooms is important to improving students' performance. President Obama recognized this in his July 2012 White House Executive Order on Educational Excellence for African-Americans when he wrote about the need to "improve the recruitment, preparation, development, and retention of successful African-American teachers."

But his administration has focused less on this than on testing and the so-called Race to the Top. This emphasis has led to the closing of some inner-city schools, and with it, the loss of jobs for teachers of color.

Programs like Teach for America haven't helped matters, either. Sending recent college graduates, predominantly white, into the public schools for two-year placements has often gotten in the way of retaining highly skilled black teachers who are more likely to be connected to the local black community.

We should look at teaching in a holistic way. Often, the best teachers are those who relate to their students' experiences and who have roots in the communities where their students live.

As our schools become more black and brown, we need to do more to attract and retain teachers of color.

Nekita Lamour is a Haitian-American tenured educator. She holds a master's in education and a Jesuit theological degree. She taught in a district north of Boston for more than 25 years and paid union dues for 26 years. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

Copyright Nekita Lamour.

Photo: "Strict black teacher pointing finger in classroom," via Shutterstock.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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