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Dallas ISD, Non-Profit Ramps Up Focus on Diversifying Teacher Pipeline

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As the teacher shortage in Texas continues, there is also another challenge local districts are facing – hiring enough educators that represent the communities they're teaching in.

Right now, Dallas ISD is really ramping up efforts to diversify its teacher workforce. It's not an easy task, especially with the ongoing teacher shortage in Texas.

But a partnership with a nonprofit is working to change that.

Taleaha Sanford knows how important representation is in the classroom.

"I had those black and brown teachers, I had those black women teachers. I had like teachers and principals who made me feel seen,” she said of her youth growing up in Ohio. “I felt like they were there for me and that I could do what I wanted to do. So I try to reiterate that in my classroom – just having that feeling of comfort and visibility really helped me in my career and educational goals.”

That’s why she decided to stay at Pinkston High School in Dallas, which is made up of mostly black and Latino students, after fulfilling her two-year commitment to Teach for America.

“That’s one of the things that I love the most about Pinkston was the representation that I saw,” she said. "I think it's super important for kids to see people who look like them, act like them and who are raised and brought up like them.”

Teach for America identifies top leaders across the country and then places them in some of the most underserved, low-income schools, where they teach for a minimum of two years. They've placed hundreds of teachers in Dallas ISD with about 1,500 total across its DFW chapter.

The organization has helped fill the gaps during the teacher shortage but right now, they're working on a bigger goal of keeping that pipeline of teachers diverse.

TFA DFW matches teachers to neighborhoods based on need. It also utilizes techniques and training to better equip its teachers before they go into a new school or community.

The teachers go through training and learning to gain an understanding of the rich cultures, histories, and assets that already exist within the students and families in that neighborhood or community.

“It’s important for our teachers to understand that when they go in to teach in diverse communities, that they first have to listen and learn from the students and families about who they are and what they care about before they can be really effective teachers,” the organization said in a statement.

That aligns with what Dallas ISD’s recruitment team has really been trying to focus on lately. About 90 percent of the student population is either Black or Latino.

"We appreciate and are working with them hand in hand to be able to bring in those minority teachers,” said Steven Jackson, director of recruitment for DISD. “I'm a Teach for America alumni myself. And I understand the processes and the rigor that they put into their teachers to make sure that they're prepared to be in the classrooms.”

Jackson’s team is working on their end to send recruiters specifically to historically black colleges and universities and high-performing institutions in Spanish-speaking countries to find even more candidates.

In fact, he said those efforts have ramped up by 70% in just the past year.

“We know that there's a nationwide shortage of men of color who are teaching,” said Jackson.

That’s why another focus is male teachers. Only about 2% of teachers nationwide are minority males.

Dallas has a Black and Latino Male Teacher Residency Program to improve those numbers locally. Applications recently opened up for the fall semester. Click here for more details.

Jackson said historically, there has been a high population of female white teachers across the country, even though the student body they serve is becoming more diverse. According to 2022 data from Texas Education Agency, more than 56 percent of teachers in the state are white. In Fort Worth, that number remains high at 50 percent and in Dallas ISD, it’s about 27 percent.

In Plano ISD, data shows 24 percent of the student population is Asian but only 5 percent of teachers represent that demographic. About 27 percent of PISD students are Hispanic with only 14 percent of Hispanic teachers.

That means there's still work to be done locally when it comes to diversity in teachers.

“Statistics have shown that students who have a person who looks like them in the classroom are more than likely to graduate from high school and their matriculation through their college career,” said Jackson. “We know that and we understand that here in Dallas size that we have a large minority population of students. For us, it's really important for us to bring in candidates who look like our students and who understand the culture of our students so that they can get the best education possible within our district.”

That means something to Pinkston 10th grader Caleia Clark, who wants to study business and one day open a homeless shelter.

"I believe that it's very important to have a teacher that looks like me in the classroom because it gives me hope,” she said. “I feel like I can connect with every teacher that I have.“

Retaining those teachers is also important so that diversity in the classroom can be around to stay for the students.

Dallas ISD pays a starting salary of $60,000 – one of the largest in the state – and is looking to increase that to $61,000 if approved by the school board. That’s in addition to thousands of dollars in stackable sign-up bonuses, especially for those who are bilingual.

“I think that we definitely need more representation in our classrooms across the United States,” said Sanford. "I think that in the long run, in their life span – they get further in life because they had that representation in the classroom.”

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