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4 Ways Mentoring Helps Attract and Retain Teachers of Color

At the July Rutgers Alternate Route Mentoring Training, mentors, facilitators, and administrators gathered to discuss lessons and advice for mentors, both for their own classrooms as well as their mentees’ classrooms. Described more in our post NJ Educators Prepare to Mentor New Teachers During Summer Training, mentoring is an important and effective way to support novice teachers throughout the school year. 


Further, as part of the Diverse Teachers for Diverse Schools (DTDS) initiative funded by the New Jersey Department of Education, Rutgers and our partner schools are committed to attracting more teachers of color to schools in the region. According to Yanivis Hage, Chief Academic Officer at iLearn Schools, “Having been an educator of color, I was able to see that students could see themselves reflected in me and that was something to strive for. So having the opportunity to bring in more teachers of color who perhaps came from the same neighborhood the students come from and who are now in this career is really helpful for the students to see.”

What may surprise some people is that offering mentoring for teachers is actually an effective strategy to attract and retain teachers of color. Dr. Phyllis Bivins-Hudson, the lead facilitator of the training, and Zammeah Bivins-Gibson, who led the cultural competency discussion, both believe that both the mentor training and mentor-mentee relationship can be effective ways to support teachers of color and influence their decision to remain in the profession. Read on for four ways that mentoring programs can help attract and retain teachers of color to your school.

  1. Having a mentor provides a safe and supportive space for teachers of color to share their voice.  For many people of color, in any profession, it can be a challenge to share their voice, for fear that they are being judged by others in the room.  “I am a teacher of color and I can speak from experience that when you are the minority in the room, you don’t want to seem like you don’t know,” noted Ms. Hage. This fear may hold back teachers of color in conversations with other teachers and prevent them from raising their perspective or voice. “Each mentor is a built-in support system, and having someone in your corner is a great help to have someone you can talk to.” Once teachers are able to honestly address their concerns in one-on-one conversations with a mentor, they will feel more confident to speak out in larger group discussions and feel appreciated and an important part of their school.

  2. Mentoring allows teachers of colors to address difficult topics such as privilege. According to Ms. Gibson, teachers of color have to think about things that their caucasian colleagues have the privilege of ignoring--namely their race and associated judgements from others. She says, "We have to think about these things every moment of the day." Because they have different lived experiences from their white peers, Gibson believes teachers of color may often feel misunderstood. “Mentorship allows teachers of color to have a voice because sometimes when we present things it’s not always seen from the worldview of the majority. So, we need someone with a voice to speak on our behalf because we have different experiences. Once brought to the forefront, teachers of color have come up and said “thank you” because they’ve tried to say these things but they haven’t been heard, especially in mixed spaces.” 

  3. Mentoring teachers of color expands the cultural competency of peers with different backgrounds. In the words of Dr. Hudson, “I believe that mentorship trainings like this can support teachers of color in the sense that it validates a lot of the thinking that goes on. A lot of their thinking may be different from the thinking of others. When you see something like this training, it’s very validating because you see this presentation and think this is exactly what I’m trying to tell my colleagues and they don’t get it. If you haven’t had the experience, you don’t get it.” By cultivating discussions between mentors and mentees who may be from different backgrounds, teachers of color can feel more comfortable that their peers can at least acknowledge that they have had different experiences. “When people of color sit in these discussions and hear this dialogue, it makes you feel like okay, I’m not out there on this different plane that I sometimes think I’m on. I am on the right track and what I’m trying to share with others is exactly what I’m hearing here.” Through these discussions, teachers of color can feel that they are among others who understand their perspective once they have been able to share their voice.

  4. Mentoring offers an “on-ramp” for teachers without a formal teaching education. While not specifically addressing teachers of color, the availability of a mentorship program helps schools recruit for people without a formal teaching education who are considering teaching as a career option. Knowing that this support is available can alleviate concerns and make it easier to take the leap into a supportive environment. Whether this is their first career or they’re changing careers, they’ll know they won’t be on their own. For teachers of color coming to teaching without a formal teaching education, this strategy should make them feel more comfortable entering the education field.

By addressing these challenges that teachers of color face and offering support and open lines of communication, a mentorship program at your school can be a great selling point to recruit and retain teachers of color. 

For more perspectives and news in the field of education, be sure to follow Rutgers Alternate Route on Twitter.

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Heather Ngoma

Heather Ngoma has over 20 years experience collaborating with educators across New Jersey to drive education innovation. She currently serves as the Director of Rutgers University's Alternate Route Teacher Training Program at the Center for Effective School Practices, a program which helps career changers, recent college graduates and other aspiring education professionals become licensed teachers in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter @heatherngoma.