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Black teacher shortage worrying lawmakers

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(The Center Square) — Though it’s unclear how much education funding will flow from budget negotiations, House Democrats say it’s important to develop a pipeline for Black educators in Pennsylvania.

During a policy committee hearing with the legislative Black caucus on Thursday, legislators heard from educators on what teaching can accomplish and what worrying trends they see.

Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, warned of a lack of Black school board officials and concerns about the harassment of Black students at Pennsylvania’s state universities. Teachers noted the disappearance of Black teachers in classrooms.

“I was trying to remember how many Black teachers I had in my K-12 experience; I came up with 13, with most of those teachers in middle school,” said Danielle Martin, an academic success coordinator and adjunct professor at Temple University-Harrisburg. “I asked the same question to my Gen Z daughters — they had one teacher of color in middle school. There’s a problem. One thing that we do know is representation matters.”

Temple University is using a $1.4 million grant to promote diversity in teaching, one form of which is setting up a teacher pathway program for high school students at its campus in Harrisburg.

“This is our effort to help young people have access and background knowledge of what teaching entails,” Martin said.

Other school leaders testified about the importance of using their passion to make education better.

“We need to make a change in education, especially for our Black and brown students, particularly Latino and Asian-Pacific (students), they are underrepresented in our schools as far as teaching,” said Tamira Howard, former teacher and current principal of Central Dauphin East High School.

The vast majority of teachers nationally are white, noted Sharif El-Mekki, founder of the Center for Black Educator Development.

“Most Black children will never see a Black teacher, a Latino teacher, an Asian teacher,” he said. “Teaching is a prayer for the future. When we teach well, we’re impacting the trajectory of that student’s grandchild … it’s not just what happens in that classroom during those 180 days — it’s the future.”

The long-term trends aren’t reversing the black teacher problem, either.

“In Philadelphia alone, from 2000-2020, we lost 1,200 Black teachers — all the other demographics increased,” El-Mekki said. “Think of the educational capital that used to be in those spaces that disappeared.”