Portrait of Jonathan "Johnny" Walters, for 2020 senior profile.  GSOE-Single-Subject English Credential and Master’s Degree in Education
November 17, 2021

Creating a healthy racial climate to diversify the teacher workforce

Paper offers a framework for racial literacy in teacher education

Author: Holly Ober
November 17, 2021

To diversify the teacher workforce, teacher training programs must strive for healthy racial climates guided by racial literacy, recommends a paper by researchers at UC Riverside, UCLA, and CSU Fullerton. 

Rita Kohli

The paper, led by UC Riverside education associate professor Rita Kohli, suggests that teachers of color often leave the profession early or even before they’re credentialed. Race evasiveness—silencing or neglecting the reality of racism—saps their energy and creates barriers to their retention in the profession, the paper’s author’s assert. The paper builds on higher education scholarship on racial climate and offers a framework for addressing racism to create a healthy racial climate in teacher education programs.

“A lot of times in teacher education we’re focused on one-dimensional solutions to addressing racism, such as admitting people of color into programs that lack diversity,” said Kohli, who is also the co-founder and co-director of the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice. “But if we look at the research on how organizational systems and climate work, we learn we have to pay attention to the many prongs that shape the educational and workplace racial climates for teachers of color. Because we are not consistently or systematically assessing and addressing racism across those multiple dimensions, we are often recruiting teachers of color into climates that cause harm.”

To change this, Kohli and her co-authors argue for the need to address how racist and racially inequitable policies and practices are embedded in teacher education programs. 

The authors assert programs should examine the relationship of the institution to Indigenous communities and land, as well as segregationist policies the institution might have upheld and how these were dismantled. These programs should also consider ways that racism has shaped the relationships between the university and communities, as well as how geography, resources, and well-being are distributed among the schools that serve them.

Programs should also commit to racial justice to help recruit and retain students of color. These commitments include recruitment of education students from underrepresented backgrounds and incorporating their knowledge and experiences into candidacy interviews and evaluation criteria.

Teacher education programs should also strive to attain a “critical mass” of people of color to foster a sense of belonging and displace whiteness as a norm, and they should create specific psychological supports for people of color.

“A healthy racial climate isn’t one that completely eradicates racism. It’s about having the practices in place to anticipate it, support people through it, and work toward eliminating it,” Kohli said. 

Kohli said thinking about anti-racism as a matter of literacy frames it like reading literacy— an essential basic skill everyone in our society needs. Unfortunately, people don’t necessarily want to build that literacy, Kohli said. 

“There’s a lot of reliance on people who do have that expertise. We’re saying this is not good enough. There’s a burden on teachers of color,” Kohli said.

The paper, “Toward a healthy racial climate in teacher education: centering the well- being of teacher candidates of color,” is published in the Journal of Teacher Education. In addition to Kohli, authors include Uma Mazyck Jayakumar, Eddie Comeaux, Arturo Nevárez, Andrea Carreno Cortez, and Margarita Vizcarra from UCR; Darlene Lee and Emma Hipolito at UCLA; and Alison Dover and Nick Henning at CSU Fullerton.

Header photo: Portrait of Jonathan "Johnny" Walters, a 2020 GSOE-Single-Subject English Credential and Master’s Degree in Education graduate. (UCR/Stan Lim)

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