School of Education Dean Andrew Daire.
School of Education Dean Andrew Daire outlined several efforts at VCU to attract and retain minority educators at Monday's virtual Virginia Education Summit.

School of Education dean: Recruiting and retaining minority educators is key for Virginia schools

“Teachers who better understand the broader cultural context, who possess strong content knowledge … are more effective and successful in the classroom.”

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Andrew P. Daire wants to see a more diverse group of teachers in public education in the United States and is pursuing efforts to achieve that goal.

Speaking Monday at a session of a statewide education summit focused on retaining and recruiting more minority educators, Daire, Ph.D., dean and Ruth Harris Professor in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Black students are 13% more likely to attend college if they have a Black teacher by the third grade. He also emphasized the need for universities and the education community to work together to improve teacher retention. That means classroom instruction that is more culturally relevant and future teachers with an understanding of racial inequality and injustices that exist in the U.S., Daire said.

“Teachers who better understand the broader cultural context, who possess strong content knowledge, and who are culturally relevant and responsive in their pedagogy and practice are more effective and successful in the classroom, and are more likely to remain in their teaching positions compared to those who struggle without this knowledge and [these] skills,” Daire said.

The Virginia Education Summit is an annual gathering of members of the Senate Education & Health and House Education committees with education specialists. The goal of the summit is to inform the legislature about key issues within public education and help the General Assembly form an agenda for the upcoming session.

Javaune Adams-Gaston, Ph.D., president of Norfolk State University, sees three main barriers for minority students. First, the salary and cost of education are disproportionate. Students often come out of college with large amounts of debt and cannot repay it on a teacher’s salary. Secondly, students are not made aware that teaching is a viable career pathway. Finally, licensing can be a challenge for some minority students and can be seen as a barrier.

“The value of educator diversity in Virginia’s classrooms cannot be underestimated,” Adams-Gaston said. “It is critical and clear that we need a range of teachers from a range of backgrounds and that diversity matters.”

Several speakers noted that one challenge in recruiting new educators is the lack of prestige associated with education. In the past, teaching was a well-regarded career. That does not seem to be the case now, they said. 

“The narrative around teaching has to change as a community,” said Anthony Graham, Ph.D., provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Winston-Salem State University. “Unfortunately, when you are engaging in conversations about pursuing the teaching profession, you often hear from parents of prospective students that it is a profession they don’t want their child entering.

“The salaries are too low. The hours are too long. It is not revered.”

Virginia Sen. Mamie E. Locke said the commonwealth has a lot of work to do to improve the number of minority teachers in public education but the legislature is working toward that goal. Locke said leaders in Virginia and around the country have excellent ideas that could be incorporated into the legislature’s agenda.

Daire said VCU is implementing multiple programs to attract and retain more minority students within the field.

“In this process, we will ensure that we are more culturally responsive in our curricula; better integrate research, knowledge and practice from diverse scholars and include critically reflective practices within the curriculum,” Daire said. “This will allow us to be more inclusive in our educational practices, contributing to better prepared and more culturally responsive educators.”

Two year ago, the School of Education started Substitute Teaching the VCU Way to address the shortage of substitute teachers, especially in high-turnover schools. The program trains VCU students from any discipline to substitute teach. The school also has launched the Innovative Teacher Pipeline, which helps students fund their education if they are willing to work in schools that are hard to staff. The program also helps students better understand poverty and culturally responsive practices. Finally, the School of Education launched the VCU Pathways to Teaching: Career Switcher Program, accelerated teacher training that gets students into the classroom more quickly.

Daire said he was most excited about the school’s new Minority Educator Recruitment, Retention and Equity Center, which has developed multiple programs to attract and retain minority students.

“The challenges faced by many of our schoolchildren, and in many of our schools, are not average and will not be met with average efforts,” Daire said. “At the VCU School of Education, we are working hard to be bold and aspirational in our desires and efforts to address these challenges.”