Saidah Taylor will never forget the moment when her high school guidance counselor very nearly derailed her academic future while looking at a list of prospective colleges.
“I was 17-years-old, I had taken AP and honors classes all my high school career, and the [school] I wanted to go to was a majority white school,” said Taylor, who is black. “And [the counselor] was like, ‘You are not the type of scholar they want at that school.’ And that broke my spirit. It hurt my soul to hear someone supposed to be my guidance counselor tell me to my face that I can’t go to the school. No alternative, no other options – you can’t go here. And I remember wanting to cry.”
Taylor, who is now a 6th grade teacher at the Ignite Middle School in Dallas, is now working to ensure that no other student feels that way ever again.
Like many large, urban school districts, the Dallas Independent School District is majority minority – more than 9 out of 10 students is either Hispanic or African American.
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But, at least nationally, as many as 8 in 10 school teachers are white, and less than 10% are black, according to Urban Teachers DFW, an organization that is working to reverse that trend.
As part of its Black Educator Initiative, Urban Teachers has set a goal of placing 1,000 African American teachers in urban school districts across the country over the next five years.
The funding for that effort - $25 million - comes from a variety of sources including philanthropists like former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer.
“We recruit aspiring teachers from around the country,” said Emily Garcia of Urban Teachers DFW, who said the group has already placed approximately 300 teachers since 2015.
The candidates, like Saidah Taylor, sign on for a four-year program, during which they will get real classroom experience while also earning a Master’s Degree in Education from Johns Hopkins University.
Even though she was already considering becoming a teacher, Taylor said she needed the extra push from Urban Teachers at a career fair on her college campus to actually pursue that goal.
Taylor said she initially disqualified herself, concerned that her grades might not be high enough. But an Urban Teachers representative encouraged her to follow through, saying that her previous child care experience would help ensure that she was qualified.
Taylor stressed that she is hopeful her presence, and that of others in the Urban Teachers program, can inspire her students in ways that she rarely experienced while growing up.
“I always felt that there was a disconnect between me and my teachers that did not look like me,” Taylor said. “As I got older I started getting more African American teachers and I realized that I saw growth within my academics. And it was because I felt like, you know what? You relate to me.”