In the state of Illinois, Black teachers are leaving the classroom in droves, and at a rate higher than any other group, and after years of dealing with this seemingly mass exodus, “the Illinois State Board of Education [ISBE] is investing milllions of dollars to find out why” educators are making the decision to leave the classroom.”
Regional Superintendent Shannon Fehrholz says, “We feel like [these new efforts are] history making.” The project is currently in the planning phase and is expected to last for two and a half years.
As a local ABC affiliate reported, “[i]f you are a student of color in Illinois there’s a good chance your teacher does not look like you. And when it comes to achievement, representation matters.” In fact, the ISBE’s 2021 Illinois Report Card, “showed that 82 percent of Illinois teachers identify as White, whereas only 47 percent of Illinois public school students identify as White.”
A state report found that “[t]he retention rate for Black teachers is 80.6 percent, which is 7 percent lower than for white teachers.” Devin Evans, a Chicago school teacher said, “If we don’t get the issue fixed now, it could lead to a generation of students who won’t have the same academic success that students in my classroom and other classrooms are getting.”
“All students, and especially students of color, benefit from having diverse educators throughout their school experiences…When the role models and people in positions of authority in our lives look like us, that shapes our perception of our place in the world in a positive and powerful way.” said Carmen Ayala, the State Superintendent.
The Learning Policy Institute has conducted extensive research on teacher recruitment and retention, and found that “teachers of color help close achievement gaps for students of color and are highly rated by students of all races—a fact that is all the more relevant in light of persistent gaps between students of color and students from low income families and their peers who are White or from more affluent families…Students with racially diverse teachers also have fewer unexcused absences and are less likely to be chronically absent.”
Carolyn Theard-Griggs, the Dean of Chicago State University’s College of Education states, “We need our students to have role models. We need opportunities for them to see themselves represented in the classroom,” and the college just launched a mentoring and tuition assistance program, entitled Call Me MISTER, “for Black and brown male education students…‘College is expensive and if you talk to any of our students in the Call Me MISTER program, they will you tell you that was one of the draws, that they get a four year scholarship and they don’t have to graduate with debt’” Theard-Griggs, added.
In addition to financial barriers and hurdles, students who attended an ISBE board meeting commented on how the lack of diversity in the profession, and cited that fact “as a reason more children don’t want to pursue teaching” as a career. At the meeting, Serena Thakkar, a St. Charles East High School student spoke out on this issue, “Since kindergarten, I’ve only had one teacher who was not Caucasian…Growing up, if you don’t see yourself in these teachers, it doesn’t seem like a viable career, or like a possible career for you.”