RICHMOND, Va. -- Teachers from across Virginia gathered at VCU’s School of Education Saturday to figure out how to attract more people of color to the profession to better serve students in the Commonwealth.
The Virginia Education Association’s (VEA) fourth annual Teachers of Color Conference focused on the barriers educators face like working conditions, compensation and community struggles.
"This summit is designed to try and address some of those barriers and to influence policymakers and lawmakers to address this crisis," (VEA) President Jim Livingston said
Philip Canady, at teacher at E.S.H. Greene Elementary School in Richmond, said the issue is critically important for students.
"It’s very important that kids get to see someone that looks like them in front of the classroom," Canady said. "But more importantly for all kids to see men of color in a positive light versus what’s typically shown in the media these days."
Livingston pointed to research that shows children of color do better in school when they have teachers who look like them and understand their life experience.
"This conference is an important opportunity to make progress in having public school teachers in our state that more closely reflect our increasingly diverse student population,” Livingston said.
About one in five teachers are persons of color in the state, according to the VEA.
That is a number Canady, who has been teaching for more than 15 years, said needs to grow. In fact, he said he is the only African American male teacher at Greene Elementary.
“I very often get kids who come up to me that I may not even teach, 'Hey, Mr. Canady, how you doing today?'" Canday said. "So I definitely see the importance of that presence and the impact that it has on the kids."
Canady said the issue is not something that can be resolved overnight.
"We have to promote our profession, because that’s what it is, teachers are professionals," Canady explained. “I think what we do is noble. I think what we do matters to society and we make the careers. We make the career you have now, as a teacher.”