Home Education Providing mid-career teachers of color with the support they need (opinion)

Providing mid-career teachers of color with the support they need (opinion)

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It’s no secret that many mid-level teachers have experience malaise. After successfully meeting the demands of tenure, they face new demands on their time, including additional official and administrative assignmentsas well as new uncertainties about how to reach the next rung on the academic career ladder.

The challenges of staying energized mid-career and on track for a timely promotion to full professor play out differently for different faculty. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty of color and women’s faculty were known to take on the bulk of invisible work related to the profession. I inequalities with the pandemic, the number of responsibilities at work and at home has only increased.

While many teachers experience burnoutwhich minarized teachers had to deal with their own different stressors both before and during the pandemic and even now that it appears to be abating. Too often they still remained the only faculty of color in their departments. U autumn 2018, only 6 percent of adjunct professors at the nation’s institutions were black, 5 percent were Hispanic, and less than 1 percent were American Indian. For full-time professors, the numbers are even lower. In the fall of 2018, only 4 percent of full professors at degree-granting institutions nationwide were black, 3 percent were Hispanic, and less than 1 percent were American Indian.

It is time for those of us in higher education to recognize that such low numbers reflect a failure of our institutionalized processes and practices. In order for middle-level teachers of color to thrive, we must interrogate the extent to which prevailing institutional and departmental policies and practices recognize and fail to recognize the contributions of these teachers and provide them with the resources and support they need to succeed. It is important to recognize that academic norms and expectations of “excellence” have been developed – and too often maintained – by white, predominantly male faculty, as Andrea Simpson has suggested in the last article in Inside the higher ed. It is time to critically assess how these norms and often narrow definitions of excellence serve to privilege and privilege the approaches and perspectives of most educators—while minimizing and underestimating how other approaches and perspectives also contribute to academic excellence.

For a middle-level teacher of color to thrive, we also need to consider other aspects of the work environment. Institutional leaders might ask: What are the professional goals of mid-career faculty of color and what resources do we offer to help them achieve those goals? What institutional resources are available to middle-level teachers and are they allocated in a way that recognizes the different needs, priorities and approaches of different teachers? What external resources—scholarships, grants, awards, and so on—are available for the career development of middle-level teachers of color, and what are we doing to help middle-level teachers of color access them?

Mentoring is one approach to providing middle-level teachers with individualized support. However, when institutions do offer formal mentoring programs, they tend to focus on junior faculty. Formalized mentoring programs can help ensure that all teachers – not just junior teachers or teachers who already have connections with well-placed senior colleagues – receive the information, feedback and support they need. Particularly because teachers of middle-level teachers of color may often be of a different gender, race, or ethnicity, institutions should consider training teachers in culturally aware mentoring practices that they are aware of their background and mitigate any biases and prejudices they may bring to the experience. Effective teachers for the faculty of color serve as allies, demystify the academy for the mentee, provide psychological support, respect the mentee’s career decisions, and more.

Coaches and sponsors

While teachers often focus on meeting the needs identified by students, they can be even more effective when, acting as coaches and sponsors, they help develop trainees’ skills and help them gain recognition for their work and gain new professional opportunities. Mentoring can make clear requirements and expectations for performance reviews and promotions, inform mid-level faculty members about what services and leadership requests to accept, and provide a tangible signal of institutional care and support. Coaches go the extra mile by providing meaningful feedback and constructive guidance on manuscripts and grant proposals and encouraging participation in programs that develop leadership and other skills. Sponsors also do: for example, they nominate students for prestigious awards and performances. Such advocates advocate on behalf of the student, clarify misconceptions, and put information into context for the student’s benefit.

In fact, all senior faculty, including senior faculty of color, should stand up and stand up for mid-level colleagues of color through their participation in review processes. Senior faculty influence the outcomes of these processes through their service on promotion and tenure committees and as external reviewers. In such roles, they can talk about the value and contribution of different perspectives and show how gender and race may influence learning evaluations. And they can advocate that all senior faculty who vote on tenure and promotion issues participate in racial bias training specifically related to promotion and review processes.

A great and diverse faculty is the foundation of a great college or university. Diverse faculty bring diverse perspectives, and these diverse perspectives enhance our teaching and advising, research and scholarship, clinical practice, and engagement with the community and our world. To fully realize the benefits of an excellent and diverse faculty, colleges and universities must do more to empower mid-level faculty of color to develop and reach the highest ranks.

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