Before Kiana Beamon started teaching, there weren’t any Black or Brown teachers in her school.
Now, she’s one of a few on her elementary campus outside Hartford, Connecticut, where she teaches third grade. At the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, a parent of one of Beamon’s student’s said she hoped her daughter would be assigned to Beamon’s class — and her daughter did, too.
Shortly before the end of the year, this student told Beamon that she now wanted to be a teacher because “she knew that she could because she saw me,” Beamon says.
“I’m not gonna lie, I almost started crying,” Beamon says. “It warmed my heart so much to be able to be that person for her.”
But Beamon wasn’t always a teacher. She initially got her bachelor’s degree in history, and later began working as a substitute teacher. Beamon wanted to get the certifications, but she wasn’t sure how to go about it since she’d already gone through traditional college.
A teacher in the district told her about a program she’d seen online: The Connecticut Teacher Residency Program, a grantee of the The Black Educators Initiative run by the National Center for Teacher Residencies. All Beamon needed to do was apply.
“I was like, ‘Alright, what’s the worst that can happen?’” Beamon says.
After starting in the summer of 2021, Beamon finished the 18-month program shortly before the start of the 2022-2023 school year.
And now, as the person standing in the front of the classroom, Beamon realized her students are looking at her as a model to see what they can do next.
“I need to be that person for them,” Beamon says, “to tell them that they can do whatever they want to do no matter who tells them what they can be.”
The Black Educators Initiative
Launched in 2019, the Black Educators Initiative was created around “one pressing challenge,” says Keilani Goggins, the director of the Black Educators Initiative.
And that challenge was helping more Black people get to the front of the classroom. Through a $20-million grant from the Ballmer Group, the Black Educators Initiative was created to recruit, develop, and retain 750 new Black teachers over five years through NCTR’s national network of teacher residency partners.
At the end of the 2021-2022 cycle, its third year, 669 Black teacher residents were enrolled, and 511 of them had graduated.
The funds go toward various things, like scholarships, stipends, and emergency funds — anything that can help lower the financial barriers for Black teacher residents.
Providing financial support is key for Goggins, who has seen the impact firsthand.
A resident fell behind on rent and was facing eviction.Her school district was on strike, so she wasn’t getting paid. Through BEI emergency funding, she was able to make rent payments and stay in her home.
Those financial supports “give them a certain sense of comfort and security knowing that the program has the means that will not allow them to fail,” Goggins says. “That allows them to feel comfortable and be able to really focus on the task at hand, which is to teach students and to become a world class teacher.”
And, at the end of the third year, 89% of residents said they felt supported by the program.
Beamon is quick to put an end to anyone who says programs like this aren’t the same as going through a traditional college route. It’s the “exact same classes, exact same information, just crammed into 18 months,” she says. Classes were held all day Monday through Friday during the summer. And, during the school year, residents were in the classroom with another teacher during the day, with more classes in the evening twice a week.
Of course there were the typical courses, like classroom management and subject-matter classes, but BEI residents also had training in how to take the given curriculum and make sure that it’s accessible to all of your students.
“It taught me to be a role model for our students because the students — no matter what color, race, ethnicity, religion,” Beamon says, “whatever they are, they’re benefiting from seeing a person of color in the classroom.”
A Built-In Support System
The Black Educators Initiative pairs every resident with a mentor, which has proven to be very popular.
“Going in, people think teaching is you close your door, and your classroom is your kingdom,” Goggins says. “You need to be able to have a system of support to lean on, and mentorship has shown itself to be such a viable way of doing that building that support, having a thought partner.”
Teacher turnover rates tend to be highest during the first few years in the classroom — and have ticked up since the pandemic. So, with BEI, the mentor provides a sense of security and helps a resident try out something they might not have been comfortable trying if they were alone in the classroom.
And these mentorship networks don’t just disappear after graduation. Beamon still meets monthly with a mentor and a group of teachers of color. It’s a “safe space to just talk and be ourselves and figure out what we’re going through and know that we’re not alone.”
“It’s being with a group of people that not only look like me, have the same mindset as me, all trying to work towards a common goal, but also being able to let my guard down,” Beamon says. “Because, in a lot of spaces, we really can’t let our guards down.”
Outside of the monthly meetings, they regularly communicate through ongoing group chats, discussing the goings on and checking in on each other. These networks empower Beamon as a person of color in the teaching field. She’s able to run ideas past her group and get both feedback and hyped up.
“It makes me feel like I can do what I set out to do,” Beamon says. “They’re always there to say, ‘You got, you can do it.’”
Creating Generations of Mentors
About halfway through her program, Beamon was already getting excited about the prospect of returning later on to be a mentor for a future resident.
“I want to also be that person for the next generation of teachers that are coming in,” she says. It was a sentiment echoed throughout her group chat with other teachers. “Having people of color being mentors to other people of color is going to foster better relationships, make them feel comfortable asking different questions.”
Goggins also shares this vision. She wants the program to continue creating a bunch of leaders — folks that end up leading not just classrooms, but schools and beyond.
“It’s really making sure that students all across the country have access to Black teachers, because research shows that it’s not just Black students who benefit from having Black teachers,” Goggins says.
“I hope this goes on forever.”
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