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Guest Commentary: Grow Your Own Black Teacher Pipeline

A donor helped fund a fellowship to bring new teachers of color to a suburban district. Here’s why a local educator thinks it’s an idea worth stealing

Guest Commentary: Grow Your Own Black Teacher Pipeline

A donor helped fund a fellowship to bring new teachers of color to a suburban district. Here’s why a local educator thinks it’s an idea worth stealing

In the past three years, Toni and Nia, two of my former Black female students, each earned four-year, full-tuition Wissahickon Gwynedd Mercy University Opportunity Scholarships to become future teachers. As part of this program, Toni and Nia will return to their alma mater, Wissahickon School District, to teach for up to four years.

This particular funding is an exception, thanks to an anonymous donor. In most school districts, students would have to rely on educational budgets from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the same opportunities. The power of PA-funded Grow-Your-Own (GYO) programs could enrich the educator pipeline with Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC).

As a senior, Toni was in my political science and African American studies courses. She would often talk about her experiences shadowing elementary teachers as a high school student. “Mr. Reid, I can’t wait to be your coworker,” Toni said proudly, reminding me that the field I work in needs more Black educators.

As of late last year, just 4.8 percent of public school teachers in the U.S. were Black women and only 1.8 percent were Black men — about the same overall percentage in PA. Philadelphia, where 50 percent of students are Black, has the highest number of Black teachers, at 23 percent — but even that number has fallen over the last two decades.

Before graduating in 2022, Toni was one of 7.2 million Black students in U.S. public schools. Imagine if the opportunity Toni now has to become an educator could exist for more high school students as well as paraprofessionals, other support staff and community members. Imagine the community of young people of color who might be interested in becoming educators. Recruiting students through GYO programs is one way to increase the numbers of Black educators in our classrooms.

The opportunity of GYO programs

As a junior, Nia asked me great questions in my U.S. history honors course. Her interest peaked especially during the Civil Rights Movement lessons. This class was one of the reasons she decided to become an educator. I didn’t see Nia again until her high school graduation. She was excited to tell me in person about the moment she decided to become a teacher. Governor Josh Shapiro stated in his budget address, “Here in Pennsylvania, we get … stuff … done!” For me, a Black educator, and for other Black students and Black teachers in PA, getting stuff done means creating more GYO pathways for future Black educators. I commend Governor Shapiro for proposing $10 million for GYO and teacher apprenticeship programs.

Recruiting students through GYO programs is one way to increase the numbers of Black educators in our classrooms.

One such program is the newly established Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathway for K-12 teaching, which allows high school students to start down the road of becoming educators while still in high school. The Pennsylvania Department of Education needs to further promote and expand this program so more high school students can earn college credit before graduation.

At Upper Merion High School (where I teach), students in the Black Student Union (BSU) commute to make connections with third and fourth-grade students through a mentorship program. This program is one of many opportunities to mold the next potential Black educator. And Toni and Nia, in their sophomore and freshman years at Gwynedd Mercy, are coming soon to speak to our students about what the opportunity to receive free tuition, room and board, and a guaranteed teaching position after graduation has meant to them.

They are already inspiring others, even as they work to help fill the void of Black teachers in the classroom. With more GYO programs statewide, they wouldn’t be an exception.

Matt Reid is a 9th-12th grade humanities, American cultures, and African American studies teacher at Upper Merion High School in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. He is a 2023-2024 Teach Plus Pennsylvania Policy Fellow.

The Citizen welcomes guest commentary from community members who represent that it is their own work and their own opinion based on true facts that they know firsthand.


Matt Reid, center.

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