We often discuss multi-tiered systems of support for students but rarely discuss multi-tiered systems of support for educators. Currently, we have significant teaching vacancies throughout the nation. The need is even greater with regard to teachers of color – and even more vacancies are anticipated as challenges within education persist. School districts continually wonder how they will recruit teachers. Yet, they do not consider how they will develop a system of support for the educators who remain. When we provide limited or no support for teachers, they eventually burn out and leave the profession.
Since the onset of the pandemic, discussions regarding mental and emotional well-being, professional learning needs, as well as safe spaces for educators to build community have been highlighted. Yet, where are the multi-tiered supports for educators? Multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) is a framework that encourages a systems approach to providing interventions and support to students. However, it is a framework that could be used to provide systemic interventions and support to educators as well.
As a Black, expertised, and experienced educator that has developed and implemented multi-tiered systems of support for students, I can clearly conceptualize an MTSS for educators of color. It would be an essential process to support the mental and emotional well-being and care of educators of color. Here’s how these strategies could be incorporated to support and retain teachers of color:
Cultivate Affinity Spaces as Part of Professional Learning
As a Black female educator, I often find myself in situations in which microaggressions do not feel micro but are macro and intentional, deliberate acts of exclusion. As I sought to be a part of professional learning communities that support me in my leadership and scholarship, I discovered Black Girls Teach Empowerment Circle. This particular space provided me with a sense of belonging and connection. I didn’t feel isolated by the challenges I experienced. It empowered and encouraged me to engage in self-advocacy during subtle acts of aggression – such as having my ideas taken without credit given to me, being yelled at during team meetings, and repeatedly navigating ‘the ambush’ often experienced in workplace meetings. All educators of color deserve safe spaces to learn, be vulnerable, and be empowered to engage in community and social change.
Establish Mental Health/SEL Support For Educators of Color
I remember being a classroom teacher and desperately needing to take a day off to care for my physical and mental well-being. I needed time for myself. However, due to the nature of my work, I was asked to be at work while sick – and to stay at work – because I needed to be interviewed as part of a workplace investigation. Many educators, myself included, have their own personal or professional trauma to unpack. Sometimes it results from workplace experiences, even as we are asked to support our students’ social-emotional learning – with minimal support. As a teacher of color for deaf students, I often found that caring for and supporting students’ trauma became my own trauma – resulting in significant health concerns. I wonder how ongoing support can be provided to educators without there having to be a devastating tragedy or referral to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
Provide Mentoring For Meaningful Connection
As a Black woman in education, I hoped that I would be partnered with a mentor of shared culture and experience(s). Instead, I was introduced to White women, who were compelled to mentor me via ‘forced’ or assigned mentorship matching. Often they couldn’t relate to me or my experiences as a Black teacher. Overwhelmed, I had administrators who often berated me and isolated and ambushed me to discuss ‘what I had done wrong’ even as I led as an experienced and accomplished teacher. I once had a mentor/colleague yell at me for asking questions. I was told I was aggressive as I asserted myself as an education leader. These are all instances during which I wish I’d had someone to mentor me as a Black female educator. I needed and deserved someone I could connect with professionally and personally. I often consider how different my experience may have been if I had been matched with a mentor earlier in my educational journey – someone that could relate and connect with me as a Black education professional.
Educators of color deserve a system of tiered support that empowers them, improves their wellness, and expands their educational practice beyond a ‘one size fits all approach. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) educators’ students are counting on their teachers to be well and whole. They must be to support their students and achieve outcomes that best fit their students’ needs. Developing and implementing an MTSS framework for teachers of color can ensure this happens.
Felicia Rutledge serves as a Regional Multi-Tiered System of Supports Coordinator at University of Nevada, Reno, supporting educators with implementation of tiered supports. She is a Teach Plus Nevada Senior Policy Fellow and a Nevada Succeeds InspirEd Global Fellowship Critical Process Friend.
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