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October 1, 2022
Vol. 80
No. 2

A Strong BOND Supports Teacher Retention

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Recruiting men of color to become educators is only the first step to diversifying the profession. 

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Ever since I can remember, I've wanted to be a teacher. As a child, I used to set up my stuffed animals as groups of students and teach them lessons." I've heard some variation of this sentiment from at least a dozen teacher candidates during the times I've served on interview panels. Yet as far as I can recall, I've only heard this from white women. I've been a public-school educator for 26 years, with the last 11 of those as a coach or administrator, and I don't think I've ever heard one of my Black or Latino male colleagues express a lifelong pursuit of a career in education. Instead, my professional experience has shown me that Black and Latino male educators tend to join the teaching ranks because they feel a sudden personal calling, either from an inner drive to support students in their communities or from an external tap on the shoulders by a loved one.
However, such callings haven't been enough to keep pace with student demographic changes in our rapidly diversifying school systems. Moreover, men of color who do become teachers tend to leave the profession at higher rates.
In conversations with the Black male mentees I've supported over the past four years, they've expressed a collective sense of feeling out of place and unsupported. During the spring of 2018, one of my mentees, a middle school social studies teacher, explained:
I've been telling you all year that my principal and [district-level] coach have been giving me way more criticism than my colleagues, and they've been using coded language to cast me as a stereotype. I'm taking a job in [a neighboring district], which has more teachers of color.
During the spring of 2019, another mentee, a high school social science teacher, told me:
My colleagues only think I should be leading the student mentoring program. I keep asking for instructional leadership roles, and they overlook me. I've been talking to another principal, and she told me that I'd have a better shot at her school. I'm transferring.
Finally, during the spring of 2021, a third mentee, an elementary school teacher, said:
I've applied for the assistant principal pool twice. The district doesn't see me as a leader. I was offered an administrative job in [a neighboring school district]. I'm out.
The larger context of these conversations hasn't changed in decades: Black and Latino men are socialized to believe that they don't belong in schools. Their teachers say, "You don't belong," through the way they interact with boys of color in classrooms; their curricula communicate, "You don't belong," in the way that men of color are disconnected from positive depictions; and their administrators convey, "You don't belong," in the way school leaders often foster toxic work cultures (Dixon, Griffin, & Teoh, 2019).
These messages nourish the roots of one of the most troubling statistics on the teaching force: Fewer than 4 percent of public-school teachers are Black or Latino men (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018). Time after time, education researchers have found that all students benefit from a diverse teaching corps that includes male educators of color, yet districts around the nation continue to grapple with low representation. Alarmingly, there are some districts in the United States that have no Black male teachers at all (Cabral et al., 2022).
In response to this lack of workforce diversity, school districts typically attempt a few home-grown remedies. District representatives visit HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. They structure alternative pathways to the profession, such as the provision of conditional teachers' licenses and "grow-your-own" programs that train paraeducators or students to be teachers. They bring in educational consultants to talk with the central office about strategies to hire for diversity.
There is a heavy emphasis on recruitment, which sometimes makes an impact. Yet districts are less likely to emphasize development and retention efforts that specifically target males of color. If school was a better experience for children of color, maybe more of them would become teachers. If school was a better place for men of color to work, maybe more of them would remain teachers.

If school was a better experience for children of color, maybe more of them would become teachers. If school was a better place for men of color to work, maybe more would remain teachers.

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There are, however, some cases where men of color themselves are exercising their agency to change the narrative. Grassroots initiatives founded and led by male educators of color are sprouting up in districts around the country and may provide powerful examples for schools to build on in their efforts to attract and retain more male educators of color. The Building Our Network of Diversity (BOND) Project, a grassroots initiative I cofounded and currently co-lead, is one of the earliest of its kind.
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BOND members Kenny Bey, Kenneth Smith, and Daman Harris coordinate with high school volunteers during a BOND-sponsored panel conversation on the impact of male educators of color on male students of color. (Photo courtesy of the BOND Project)

Building a Brotherhood

The BOND Project is an organization of male educators of color committed to improving the recruitment, retention, development, and empowerment of male educators of color. We are both a professional organization that educators can join as well as a consultancy that supports those who request our services. We provide a wide variety of programming for our members, as well as student support, professional development, and technical assistance to our district partners.
BOND began to take shape in 2014, when five school district central office workers who were former teachers, including myself, got together in response to the startling lack of retention among Black men in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), the Maryland district in which we all worked. For instance, as a district colleague shared, in the 2014–15 school year, 19 Black men were hired (out of about 1,000 new teachers) and 17 Black men left the district at the end of the previous year. We knew we had to do something. After months of research and planning, we conducted focus groups with new and veteran Black male teachers in the district to gain their insights into the problem. We already knew that—relative to other demographic groups—there were few Black men coming into the system and the Black men who did come in were leaving the district at a higher rate. But we wanted to learn more about what was working—what lured men into the district and what made them more likely to stay.
The core messages from the participants were clear: Black men joined our district because of its prestige, competitive salaries, and opportunities for advancement; they stayed when they felt a sense of connection, fulfillment, growth, and respect.
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BOND member Charles Alexander facilitates a workshop on operationalizing equity during The BOND project's annual conference. (Photo courtesy of the BOND Project)

Based on that feedback, the leaders of BOND constructed an organizational framework to support effective recruitment and retention practices in the district that targeted men of color.
The following components are central to the framework we developed.

Mentorships

One of the tentpole programs we developed is our mentoring network. We pair new or aspiring teachers—newcomers to districts or to education in general—with veteran BOND members. We ask the mentors to stay connected for a year, but so far, several of these relationships have lasted for more than five years.
The responsibility for mentors is simple and informal: Initiate a connection at least once each week. The connections may be phone calls, texts, video calls, or face-to-face interactions. There are no topic limitations; pairs are encouraged to discuss work, relationships, sports, politics, or anything else that bolsters their bonds. Anecdotal feedback indicates that our matchups have been successful. Those involved have reported deeper personal connections to each other and professional connections to the school system.
Mentorships are also central to the BOND Learning and Leadership Institute for Young Men, a BOND program that serves MCPS boys in grades 4–12. Once a month, BOND members spend their Saturday mornings motivating, mentoring, and supporting their assigned students. At minimum, the program shows young men of color that education is a viable career path. However, it's not just about showing them that education is cool. We show them that educators are cool.

Community Building

To strengthen the sense of community among BOND members, we host quarterly meetings with face-to-face conversations; professional learning sessions on teaching, learning, and leadership; and opportunities to hear from invited guests. In addition to sharing informal dinners, members participate in ice-breaking activities, community-building conversations, friendly competitions (like which group can build the tallest tower of plastic cups), and small-group discussions. At the conclusion of these evenings, we circle up for a cypher, a psychologically safe discussion among men who are likely to have had similar experiences in schools. They get the chance to try out new ideas, role-play conversations with colleagues, or just vent. The experiences are both cathartic and empowering.
Kenneth Smith, a veteran high school teacher in Silver Spring, Maryland, framed it this way:
BOND builds community while at the same time empowering us as individuals. It's not just building outward, but upward as well. We can help each other achieve our individual visions while building our collective vision together. We bring the best out of each other, kind of like the Wu-Tang Clan. We're like a musical group that is made of a crew of powerful solo performers.
In our discussions, members often share their frustrations about their inability to authentically be themselves in schools. Sometimes, they share how the historical narrative around men of color, coupled with the automatic notice—the phenomenon that spotlights Black and Brown teachers because there are so few in school settings—makes them feel as if they are being interrogated throughout the entirety of every workday (Mabokela & Madsen, 2007; Milner IV, 2022).
The scrutiny male teachers of color receive from colleagues and community members often focuses on hairstyles, body language, voice volume and cadence, eye contact, clothing styles, and just overall presence. These men also point out burdens such as having to prove themselves as qualified instructors; feeling undervalued as experts in their content areas; being seen primarily as mentors to students of color, particularly those who are seen as
disruptive; being overlooked for advancement opportunities; and, most of all, feeling a tremendous sense of isolation in their school buildings, especially at the elementary level.

Partnerships

Though this work is a challenging passion project, the BOND leadership team does not feel alone in our efforts to support men in our region and around the country. BOND is representative of male educators of color who are exercising their agency to transform the education ecosystem into an environment that is more conducive to their personal missions, professional aspirations, and emotional well-being.
We connect with the leaders of like-minded groups across the country to share ideas, raise awareness, and generally cheer each other on. These groups include Julius Davis's Center for Research and Mentoring of Black Male Students and Teachers, Curtis Valentine's Real Men Teach, Sharif El Mekki's Center for Black Educator Development, Ayodele Harrison's BMEsTalk, and Robert Hendricks's He is Me Institute. Each group has its own niche role in contributing to the retention of male educators of color. All of us are working to flip that 4 percent data point on its head. We are working toward a society in which only 4 percent of students have never had a man of color at the front of their classroom.

At the conclusion of these gatherings, we circle up for a cypher, a psychologically safe discussion that is both cathartic and empowering.

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"A Place Where People Feel Me"

While BOND began as a support for teachers in suburban Maryland, the organization has since branched out to support educators at all levels, including administrators, across the U.S. We introduce new and aspiring administrators to veteran mentors; connect veteran administrators with job-alike colleagues; and build collaborations to support students and teachers.
Conversations with mentors, mentees, and other BOND members reveal that while personal relationships are important to both new and veteran educators, these men desire more than community building. Sure, members want opportunities to be together. However, they also want opportunities to grow together, and they want opportunities to make a collective impact.
The BOND Project leadership team is proud of the work that we've done over the last eight years. Despite the challenges, early evidence points to a positive impact on our members and the communities they serve. In the words of Bond member Brian Cadogan, a new teacher at the time, "My district-appointed mentor [who happened to be a white woman] can hear me, but she can't feel me. BOND is a safe space where people feel me."
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References

Cabral, L., Eddins, M., Lapp, D. & Nelson, S. (2022, April). The need for more teachers of color. Research for Action.

Dixon, D., Griffin, A., & Teoh, M. (2019). If you listen, we will stay: Why teachers of color leave and how to disrupt teacher turnover. The Education Trust and Teach Plus.

Mabokela, R. O., & Madsen, J. A. (2007). African American teachers in suburban desegregated schools: Intergroup differences and the impact of performance pressures. Teachers College Record109(5), 1171–1206.

Milner IV, H. R. (2022). Whiteness at work when students call their white and black teachers racist. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). National teacher and principal survey. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ntps/tables_list.asp

Daman Harris is codirector of the Building Our Network of Diversity (BOND) Project. He is the manager of professional development schools and higher education partnerships for Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland, an adjunct professor for McDaniel College, and a member of the graduate faculty for the University of Maryland at College Park.

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October 2022 Cover image
The Education Profession: Changing the Narrative
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