mental health

‘Run ragged’: Black teachers are crushed by mental health, racism and lack of support. Meet two groups working to help them

'Run ragged': Black teachers are crushed by mental health, racism and lack of support.  Meet two groups working to help them
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Two years ago, a member of my family called me out of the blue to tell me that he was quitting his career as an elementary school teacher after eight years. Our family would learn that this lovely young black teacher who entered the profession with the intention of making a difference in their black and brown community was having a mental health crisis.

I wanted to explore what would drive so many teachers, especially teachers of color like my parent, to flee the classroom. Why did teachers have so many mental health issues? And where could they find support?

First, I learned that the percentage of black teachers in the United States pales in comparison to that of white teachers – only 7% identify as black and only 2% are black males.

As for the breakdown of U.S. public school students (elementary and secondary), more than 50% are black, Latino, Asian or Indigenous, according to Pew Research data from 2018 to 2019.

These numbers themselves play a role in stressing black teachers, and many I spoke with, including a family member, said what they missed most was the community. But how can teachers find a community with so few colleagues who look like them? And even if they connect with other teachers of color or black in their schools, how long will it be before those teachers leave?

A 2021 study published by Educational Researcher found that black teachers more than doubled their counterparts when it came to leaving the classroom after their first year in the field.

Even though there was a hiring bonanza of teachers of color (which was the case between 1998 and 2018), according to Time Magazine, sadly most left the profession faster than their white colleagues.

“I would prefer to work with as many different types of people as possible. … A diversity that matches the students. It should look like our population,” a relative of mine, who prefers that we don’t use his name, told me. “It would be better to have support and to be able to not be the A member of staff, saying things like “Hey, try to remember it’s Black History Month”. Try talking about black people,” they said.

In 2014, Sharif El-Mekki co-founded The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, an organization that aims to help schools recruit and retain black educators nationwide.

Not only does El-Mekki, now director and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development, founded in 2019, advise schools on recruiting and retaining black teachers, but also offers paid apprenticeship programs for black students. male, college and high school.

El-Mekki’s work focuses on building a pipeline of black teachers with professional development programs, apprenticeships, and campaigns that amplify the message that black teachers matter.

“So while we recruit black teachers, most of our professional development is with white teachers,” says El-Mekki. “After the murder of George Floyd, we got a two-year contract to work in the public school systems in Minneapolis because they invited us to work with their school and district staff,” it adds. he.

El-Mekki explains that black teachers are often drawn to some of the more disadvantaged school districts because that may be where they went to school.

“If we create schools and districts that are good for black students to learn, then that will also be a good place for black teachers to teach. But so often it’s the opposite – two bad places for black students to learn, which means they’ll also generally be bad places for black teachers to teach,” El-Mekki says.

El-Mekki says that too often racism is whitewashed with “fancy words like micro and macroaggressions” and schools’ human resources departments are usually not much help.

“So, already, I’m just feeling prejudice everywhere. Then I come to class, and I experience this racism from colleagues. But then I’m also triggered by the experiences I’ve had as a as a student in some of those same seats,” says El-Mekki.

He explains that all of these experiences lead to ‘deep racial stress’ who are often misunderstood or ignored by white colleagues, school management and even school board members.

Micia Mosely is the founder and director of the Black Teacher Project, a program that supports and develops black teachers. The motto of the program is “Every child deserves a black teacher”.

“There’s a lot to me about being a good teacher and a good black teacher right now,” Mosely says.

She confirms that teachers “seek to find a community”. And with the recent attacks on teachers over the teaching of “critical race theory” (CRT), many educators feel insecure. “And in some cases, they feel like they’re being asked to teach lies,” Mosely says.

In February, the Black Teacher Project held its first “wellness retreat” for teachers. She says the retreat was “two days of bringing together black educators and focusing on their well-being, both physical and mental – both understanding the importance but, more importantly, committing to it. “.

Mosely describes the retreat as a place where teachers can learn mindfulness, not share it with their students: “But you’re going to get that mindfulness because you deserve it and you need it.”

“I think part of that is finding professional development that honors the experience of educators and isn’t always tied to achievement based on things that are often as racist as what stresses the teacher out,” says Mosely.

Mosely says the Black Teacher Project also offers a “virtual design lab,” where educators meet in teams, and in teams, it can just be another black teacher you know. “They use a liberating design process, which is a blend of design thinking and equity practice to work with their students to develop wellness practices.” Mosley adds that the program is “powerful” for teachers because they “get to discover themselves and their students. There is a simultaneous internal healing process that they are going through that concerns them.

One of the most pressing issues facing teachers across the country is woefully underpaid. And every teacher I spoke with said that in addition to other stressors, such as microaggressions and lack of support from administrators, poor salaries made matters worse.

In President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address in February, he made a clear case for higher teacher pay.

“Let’s give public school teachers a raise,” Biden said. And state lawmakers across the country, on both sides of the political aisle, have been outspoken about legislating higher salaries for teachers in order to retain them.

Low teacher salaries play a big role in stressing all teachers, especially black teachers, as many carry immense student debt.

“Student debt issues disproportionately affect black and brown teachers. … If you don’t see yourself earning on a teacher’s salary and you have a net $200, $300, $400, $500 every month in student debt, that puts you in a spiral,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, said.

El-Mekki says that over the past two years, he has been made aware of a growing number of self-care spaces for black educators, particularly self-care awareness. Some have names, and some aren’t as formal, but there are groups of teachers who come together to support each other, share victories and challenges and have space to unite, he says.

“The purest form of activism is to teach black kids well, and that has fueled me for 30 years…it means they (students) need great black teachers so they can be taught well so that they can influence the system.”

A member of my family says that the work of teachers is essential: children thrive when there are more teachers in the classrooms with more resources to teach well.

“It seems like a very basic thing, but I think it’s just that we don’t value education enough to put the real money it deserves and hire more people. There just need to be more people. Everybody got spared, sort of torn to shreds, and then they can’t make good choices,” they said.

Rebekah Sager is an award-winning journalist and published author with over a decade of experience. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Hollywood Reporter, Playboy, VICE, Cosmopolitan, The Los Angeles Times and more. She currently works as a reproductive reporter at the American Independent.

This story was supported by the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism, where Rebekah is a 2022-2023 fellow. Read his first story here.

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