Despite many teachers’ best efforts, Minneapolis’ inequitable education system creates schools that provide students with drastically different opportunities, often depending on their ZIP code or race. Only 23% of African-American students were proficient in reading on the state exam.
I had hoped that the district’s recent plan to correct this injustice would offer some hope for my students in the coming years. I was sorely disappointed.
Even though teachers are the No. 1 in-school factor that determines the prospects for a student’s future, the district’s plan includes nothing to ensure that every student has access to a diverse and effective set of educators. But I am clinging to some hope. The district still has the opportunity to include measures to attract and retain educators in high-poverty schools in the final plan.
All too often, students most in need of a consistent group of caring and effective teachers attend schools that are plagued by high turnover rates. For example, last year when a beloved colleague at my school left, her students joined my class. Students who had previously thrived academically and socially in her English class brought frustration, anger and a lack of trust into my classroom because they felt abandoned.
It made for a difficult transition, not only for those students but also for the students I had been teaching. I gave it my all and we eventually moved into a better place. As a teacher with five years of experience, this was one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my career. I can only imagine the damage to students’ learning if this had happened to an early career educator — people who disproportionately teach in our high-needs schools.
Without making targeted investments to attract, develop, and retain excellent teachers in high-poverty schools, we will not reach the district’s academic goals. The plan must include increased compensation for excellent teachers who work in high-poverty schools, coupled with intentional support. Furthermore, district leadership must create exciting leadership opportunities by implementing hybrid roles in which teachers teach part-time coaching and developing their colleagues. These roles have proven to retain exceptional teachers while expanding their impact in their schools.
Going forward, I hope the district and union leadership, along with the school board directors, will raise and seek to answer questions such as, “How do we get our most experienced and effective educators in front of the students who need them most? How do we stem the flow of high-potential new teachers leaving our hardest-to-staff schools? What incentives and career opportunities can we provide to ensure equity in staffing in our district?”
If they cannot answer those questions, they cannot truly make change in this district for the students who most need it. This will be just another plan that doesn’t meet the needs of our kids.
Nafeesah Muhammad is a 10th- and 11th-grade STEM ELA teacher in Minneapolis and the Equity and Incoming Teacher Onboarding Lead.