Skimming through the 40 or so interviews I’ve conducted on The Exit Interview: A Podcast for Black Educators, it’s obvious that an overwhelming number of guests thus far have been Black women. They come on the podcast to share their journey into education, why they left, what districts can do to keep Black educators, what they are doing now that they no longer work in traditional education spaces, and what has been bringing them joy these days.

Black Women: The Backbone of Education

Black women, with their unwavering resilience, have long been the backbone of the educational system, especially in underserved communities. They step into classrooms, often under-resourced and overcrowded, and bring with them not just knowledge but a deep commitment to their students’ success. These women go beyond the call of duty, serving as mentors, counselors, and advocates for their students. Their presence in the classroom is not just about teaching the curriculum; it’s about fostering a sense of belonging and possibility for every student they encounter.

On The Exit Interview: A Podcast for Black Educators, many Black women educators have shared their stories of passion and perseverance. They recount the joy of seeing their students succeed, the struggle of working within a system that often does not value their contributions, and the heartbreak of being pushed out of a profession they love. The reasons for their departure are varied, but common themes include lack of support, microaggressions, racial battle fatigue, and systemic racism within the educational system. These issues, coupled with the emotional labor of constantly advocating for themselves and their students in unwelcoming environments, highlight the urgent need for change.

Based on the insights from my podcast guests, several strategies stand out for retaining Black educators, particularly Black women. These strategies include establishing supportive networks, addressing systemic issues, prioritizing mental health, recognizing Black women’s leadership, and building strong relationships with communities. Each of these strategies, when implemented effectively, can contribute to a more inclusive and supportive educational environment.

Supportive Networks
Districts need to establish robust support systems for Black educators. This includes mentorship programs, professional development tailored to their needs, and safe spaces where they can discuss their experiences without fear of reprisal. Having a network of peers who understand their unique challenges can significantly reduce feelings of isolation and burnout. To be clear, I am not talking about traditional affinity group spaces, as they typically are spaces for trauma bonding with no solutions being brought forward by the hosts.

Systemic Issues
Black women educators, in particular, face unique challenges. They often experience a double bind of racism and sexism, which can manifest as microaggressions, tokenism, and a lack of respect from colleagues and administrators. It’s of utmost importance that districts commit to addressing systemic racism and bias within their systems. This means implementing diversity training and actively working to change the policies and practices perpetuating inequity. The urgency of this matter cannot be overstated. Schools should hold regular forums for feedback and make genuine efforts to act on the concerns raised by Black educators, including exit interviews. It must be said that our school systems are connected to healthcare systems, housing systems, prison systems, etc.. That said, facing systemic issues within school districts is a lift that would take decades of herculean effort.

Prioritize Mental Health
The most highlighted theme on our podcast, the mental health of Black women educators, is often overlooked, yet it is crucial for their retention. Districts should provide access to mental health resources, encourage self-care, community-care and recognize the additional emotional labor that Black women educators often undertake. This is especially true when we consider that this same educator group often takes care of children, parents, and other community members after work. Their mental health can and does often crossover to the community they are supporting and/or being supported by. Acknowledging and supporting their mental health can lead to a more sustainable career in education.

Black Women’s Leadership
Many of my podcast guests speak about Black women often taking on informal leadership roles within their schools with no additional pay. Districts should formally recognize and compensate this leadership. Opportunities for career advancement and leadership positions should be made accessible and equitable, ensuring that Black women have a clear pathway to move up within the educational system. Janet Stickmon, in her second episode on the podcast, spoke about the amount of additional labor placed on Black women as a “reward” for doing well. This invisible labor is another reason we need to examine how we support Black women educators.

Community
Building strong relationships with schools’ communities is not just a suggestion, it’s a powerful tool to support Black educators. When schools actively engage with parents and community leaders, they create a more inclusive environment that values the contributions of all stakeholders. This community support can provide additional stability and encouragement for Black educators, showing the audience the power of collective action in supporting these educators.

It is crucial that we do not overlook the needs of the Black women who are currently making a difference in school districts every day. Their stories highlight their profound impact on their students and the urgent need for systemic change to support them. We can create a more equitable and effective educational system for all by addressing their challenges and implementing meaningful strategies to retain them.

By: Dr. Asia Lyons

For more insights and personal stories, visit The Exit Interview: A Podcast for Black Educators and listen to the episodes that delve deep into these critical issues.


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