Hearings emphasize importance of diversifying teacher workforce
Monday, June 14, 2021
“Two words that describe a BIPOC educator’s experience in Oregon: lonely and adversarial,” Darnell Williams told legislators last week.
Williams, the Oregon Education Association Committee on Racial Equity chair, was part of a House Education Committee hearing Tuesday, June 8, on the recruitment and retention of teachers of color. As the session winds down, policy committees are holding informational hearings on topics that could be the basis for future legislation.
Williams said he was the only BIPOC staff member at his school. He said the isolation for many Black, Indigenous and People of Color educators can lead to stress and depression. He told the story of a fellow educator who was criticized for a thick accent. Williams said the teacher’s administrator did not defend her and her contract was not renewed the next year.
“Many BIPOC educators are constantly asked to prove themselves to the parents,” he said.
He said teachers of color need more support than their peers because they are so much more vulnerable and have fewer career options.
“I am hopeful that this committee will take strong and decisive action when enacting solutions to many of these issues, because an educator's working conditions are also our students' working conditions, and they deserve better,” Williams said.
Corvallis School Board Chair Sami Al-Abdrabbuh represented OSBA at the hearing. Al-Abdrabbuh is the president of OSBA’s Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus.
Al-Abdrabbuh shared the importance to students of having teachers who look like them. He explained Corvallis’ efforts to recruit and retain local teachers of color.
“We have embedded equity into all aspects of our hiring processes,” he said. “We will have equity Teachers on Special Assignment, or known as equity TOSAS, at every secondary school. We have a strong new teacher academy and mentoring program. We continue to provide ongoing professional learning on implicit bias, and we have started an Aspiring Leaders program for our BIPOC staff.”
Al-Abdrabbuh said the school board is focusing budgets and goals around workforce diversity.
Al-Abdrabbuh also reminded legislators that it takes strong state funding to support retaining those teachers. OSBA and other education groups are advocating that the Legislature increase the State School Fund from the $9.3 billion it has approved to at least $9.6 billion.
While this hearing was going on, the Senate Rules Committee was hearing about House Bill 2001, which would help districts retain educators with less seniority who have “cultural or linguistic expertise” during layoffs.
House Speaker Tina Kotek testified again on HB 2001, highlighting the importance of recruitment and retention of BIPOC educators.
“During these uncertain times and the ongoing push for racial equity, we must not fall behind in our goal to ensure greater representation in the state’s educator workforce,” she wrote in earlier testimony. “House Bill 2001 is a contingency plan, ensuring that the Legislature’s initiatives to recruit and retain teachers of color can be protected in the event of a budget crisis or other layoffs.”
The bill was voted out of committee and will likely be on the Senate floor this week with OSBA’s support.