Building BONDs to Retain African-American Male Teachers

By Jun 29, 2017

By Daman Harris, Ph.D., Staff Development Teacher; Inger Swimpson, Ed.D., Director, Department of Certification and Continuing Education; Troy Boddy, Director, Equity Initiatives Unit; Gail Epps, Ed.D., Program Manager, New Teacher Induction Program; and Brenda Delany, Ed.D., Instructional Specialist for Higher Education Partnerships, Department of Certification and Continuing Education—Montgomery County Public Schools, Aug 25, 2014

Across the country, African-American male students are overly represented in statistics related to school discipline, dropout rates, and special education. They also are overly represented among the lower scorers on districtwide and statewide tests. Yet there is a distinct underrepresentation of African-American males in education: among teachers. Developing a cadre of African-American male teachers should be one component of any state or district plan to improve student outcomes writ large. (See Maryland’s task force report, for example.)

To support and retain African-American male teachers, Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools (MCPS) is establishing a peer mentoring program targeting African-American male teachers who are new to the school district. The program runs parallel to the current mentoring program, which matches colleagues from the same location without consideration of race or gender. The district will examine the extent to which an additional form of mentoring, one based on gender and race, is significant to teacher growth.

The MCPS New Teacher Induction Program offers mentoring to all teachers who are new to the district, matching teachers by location without regard to gender or race. The new Building Our Network of Diversity (BOND) Project does the opposite: It attempts to match colleagues of the same race and gender without significantly weighting the job location. A multi-departmental team created the BOND Project based on empirical literature, focus group meetings, and survey data. The first year of full implementation is 2014–15.

Although both mentoring programs aim to improve teacher retention, the types of support provided by the two programs are different. This strategy is based on research indicating that African-American male and African-American female teachers may face similar pressures in school buildings, but they often respond to those pressures in different ways.

For instance, our traditional mentors meet face-to-face for weekly check-in meetings; BOND mentors also will be required to check in weekly, but that contact may be electronic rather than in person. There are no structured occasions in which traditional mentors and mentees congregate with mentorship groups; in contrast, all BOND Project participants will get together at quarterly meetings for team building, information sharing, and open conversations. Hence, the New Teacher Induction Program mentors and the BOND mentors will operate concurrently as two spokes in the wheel of support provided to MCPS newcomers.

The BOND Project will provide social-emotional support for new teachers in two ways:

  • Building a strengthened sense of community
  • Establishing a vehicle for professional guidance

The sense of community will be cultivated through bonds that develop between participants. They may discuss family, sports, religion, politics, or other race-neutral topics. It is equally likely that participants might discuss concerns about racism, fitting into a majority white and female teaching corps, or some other racially charged subject. Focus group data suggest that some of these experiences might be better understood by another African-American male, and therefore some new teachers might be more likely to share certain kinds of experiences with an African-American male mentor. As one of our first-year teachers said, “[My traditional mentor] can hear me, but she can’t feel me.”

The BOND mentor will provide an empathetic ear that differentiates between a novice’s need to vent and a novice’s request for guidance on a particular issue. The mentor-mentee dynamic will provide a psychologically safe setting in which participants exchange information of all sorts. Mentors are motivated, in part, by a sense of giving back to the profession and a chance to demonstrate a form of leadership that is not typically exercised in the classroom.

Although there is no firm evidence that teacher ethnicity affects student performance, recent literature suggests that students of all races and ethnicities are better served in school districts that demonstrate commitments to improving both the excellence and equity of their teaching staff. We are optimistic about how the BOND Project will impact both the equity and excellence of our teaching corps, and we hope to one day replicate the system with other racial subgroups. But we are headed into uncharted waters. We have been asked questions like “Could two parallel mentoring programs create unwieldy logistics?” and “What kind of data will you collect about student performance?”

The truth is, we don’t know yet. This program will remain a work in progress for the foreseeable future. Watch for our initial impressions posted on the GTL blog this winter.

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Now it’s your turn. We want to hear your thoughts:

  • Is increasing the recruitment and retention rate of African-American male teachers a worthy goal?
  • What other actions can state and local leaders perform to increase the recruitment rates of African-American male teachers?
  • What other actions can state and local leaders perform to increase the retention rates of African- American male teachers?

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