The United Nations has declared the teacher shortage a global crisis. Who will teach the next generation of students? How will we recruit and retain Black educators, especially when they are leaving the profession at even higher rates? This week’s guest, Kimberly Eckert, is on a mission to address these problems in the state of Louisiana. With initiatives like hers, there is a glimmer of hope for saving our schools and in a larger sense, saving society.
- Kimberly Eckert is passionate about empowering diverse students https://www.iste.org/explore/empowered-learner/kimberly-eckert-passionate-about-empowering-diverse-educators
- Kimberly Eckert on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wf7DU6cBIKo
- Kimberly Eckert on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/2018latoy/
- Kimberly Eckert on Twitter https://twitter.com/2018LATOY
- Kimberly Eckert’s many jobs https://sites.google.com/wbrschools.net/eckertsecksperts/home
- The 1954 Project https://www.1954project.org
- The Cafe Group https://www.thecafe.org/who-we-are/our-team
This podcast is brought to you with the generous support from The Walton Family Foundation.
Aimée Eubanks Davis is the host. This series is produced by Priscilla Alabi and Kristen Lepore. Priscilla Alabi is the producer. Kristen Lepore is the supervising producer. Story editing is by Jackie Danziger. Story consulting by Sonya Ramsey. Sound design and mixing by Andrea Kristinsdóttir. Music by Hansdale Hsu. Additional music by Andrea Kristinsdóttir. Additional engineering from Ivan Kuraev. Executive producers are Stephanie Wittles Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Special Thanks to Liz Thompson, Meredith Moore, Acasia Wilson Feinberg and Maya Thompson.
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Aimée Eubanks Davis, Kimberly Eckert, Janine Tiegs
Aimée Eubanks Davis 00:23
We’re experiencing teacher shortages in the United States and all around the world. According to the United Nations, it’s a global crisis, who’s going to teach the next generation of kids? How will we recruit and retain black educators especially when they are leaving the profession at even higher rates. I’m Aimée Eubanks Davis and this is AFTER 1954.
Aimée Eubanks Davis
If you’ve been watching the hilarious ABC mockumentary, Abbott Elementary, you know the struggle is real for teachers today.
Janine Tiegs 02:03
I’m Janine Tiegs. I’ve been teaching second grade here at Abbott elementary for a year now, as a product of the Philadelphia School System. I’m proud to say I survived. And now teach here today.
Aimée Eubanks Davis
The sitcom follows a group of dedicated educators as they navigate the ups and downs of the Philadelphia public school system.
I’d say the main problem in the school district is yeah, no money. The city says there isn’t any but they’re doing a multimillion-dollar renovation to the eagle stadium down the street from here, but we just make do.
Aimée Eubanks Davis
This show could not be more timely. It reflects the realities of working in our schools today. The amount of people who want to be educators has been shrinking for over the past decade and the pandemic only worsen that trend. Schools are struggling to fill a ton of critical positions from classroom teachers to bus drivers. And not only that, the teachers who are in our classrooms, they’re not really sure they want to stay. Nearly half of teachers surveyed in a national poll last year, said they’d consider changing jobs. And this is really affecting our teachers of color, because they have been leaving the profession at higher rates than White teachers. But here’s the flip side. I know firsthand from being an educator myself, when we do step up to the plate. When we decide to be a part of the solution either as a teacher or as an innovator in this space, it pays off. Every year that goes by I get to see students whose lives I’ve had the privilege of being a small part of reach their wildest ambitions. It’s true. I mean, some of these young people, I’m just like, oh my gosh, look at you, when you do this work, the rewards are tangible. Take Abbott Elementary, for example, that sitcom I was just talking about the creator, Quinta Brunson. She named the series after her own sixth grade teacher, Miss Abbott. This series maybe wouldn’t have existed if Miss Abbott hadn’t been there as a role model for Quinta. Only with the series but Quinta brilliance might not have ever come through. Magical things happen when black kids have thoughtful Black leaders in their lives. Today’s guest knows how important it is to impact change in education so that we can bring about better outcomes for kids. Her name is Kimberly Eckert, and in 2018. She was named the Teacher of the Year in Louisiana. One of her many accomplishments is starting an elective class at the high school where she teaches. This pilot class is part of the national organization, Educators Rising, which works toward inspiring students to pursue education as a profession.
Kimberly Eckert 04:47
Educators rising is a national movement that actually started off as future teachers of America, future educators of America and it rebranded into Educators Rising because we started losing people, people don’t want to be teachers anymore. I am Kimberly Eckert, and I live in West Baton Rouge, which is different from Baton Rouge, because it’s the other side of the Mississippi River. That’s all. I am many things, but mostly a teacher. So I teach students in high school, I teach teachers, I teach people who teach teachers. In my private personal life, I’m an introvert. I’m timid. I won’t even send an overcooked steak back when I’ve ordered it medium rare, like, this is delicious. Well, whenever it comes to kids, and it comes to needs, and it comes to social justice, and it comes to human rights, it became apparent to me that sometimes if I don’t speak up, nobody will. And I have these moments in my life where I’m like, oh, mine, it’s gotta be me today. In 2018, I became involved in Educators Rising first as the classroom teacher piloting the first course in the state. And then what I wouldn’t know is that I would end up as the state coordinator and my unpaid volunteer work, tasked with trailblazing this program throughout the state. Yeah, the side hustle is strong. I think in most teachers in it’s a habit that dies hard. The beginning of this school year, in my Educators Rising class, with all my inquisitive, brilliant, beautiful, 15, 16, 17-year-old students, I had such a compelling moment, I think, because we were learning sort of the historical underpinnings of how we got to where we are in education, it’s a unit on equity. And we take a really deep look at how elements like gender ability, race and socio-economic status, have affected schools, and got us to the place that we are. And I remember, as we were studying Brown versus Board, and the things that sort of led to it, and everything that happened after, and then adding to that we’ve got a really rich history around desegregation orders that all stem from there. And as they start to lift in the state, we can see very specific shifts of schools becoming less and less diverse. And one of the students was just exasperated thinking about her experience, and just sort of looking at the demographics across schools.
And she’s like, well, what’s changed? I was like, alright, okay. this 16-year-old just asked me what has changed since this epic court case? And I was like, oh, my goodness. Tell me a little bit more about what makes you say that, what do you see? So I had her really elaborate a little bit more. And so we started to talk more about like resources and opportunities. And it really set a powerful tone for the school year, to try to find ways that that things have changed. But how is it that we’re still at a space where somebody who’s just learning our history thinks that it hasn’t, who understand that if they choose to become a teacher, that there’s an expectation that in 20 years from now, there’s not a student raising their hand to ask the same question. I think what really defines me is that I grew up on a bayou in Marksville, Louisiana, so smack dab in the middle of the state. And it’s interesting, because conversations about like race and things I’ve never gotten to opt out of, because I’m like, Black, biracial, born in the 80s, in a bayou in South Louisiana. My parents like literally had to like ride around town with one of them ducking down so they wouldn’t be seen together. Because that was such a taboo thing, oh, a White woman and a Black man. It’s very interesting, and it shaped everything. So once I was, in my third year, as a teacher, I was already a mentor, teacher. By the time I was five years in the profession, I was a master teacher. And I just want you to know, I don’t think that’s cool. I was just the only one that was still there. And that’s not entirely true. But it was tough to keep teachers at the school that I worked at in the beginning. So I was able to get a lot of opportunities early on. And one of those was trying to recruit more teachers, because the fact that we had this really high turnover rate bothered me. And it was a problem that I felt like I could fix, like, where are the people? And then the other part is like, where are all the Black people?
Kimberly Eckert 09:26
And I was also coaching lots of teachers and understood that they weren’t really coming to the school ready to teach the kids that were there. And I think that a lot of times we were losing people, not because they wouldn’t eventually be good teachers, but because they felt that there was something wrong with them because they weren’t teaching the students they’re at a high level or with a high level of skills like they were, you know, they weren’t at a level where they were consciously competent, and they were quitting before they would get there. So, whenever we talk about teacher shortage, it’s critical to understand that this is a global crisis, it’s not just an urgent situation. It’s not just this, yeah, we don’t have enough teachers, we’re in crisis mode already. So if we look to the UN, the United Nations, they initiated all these campaigns to look at our, our sustainable development goals. And one of them is quality education. And so quality education is seen as one of these crisis goals. And the fact of the matter is that by 2030, we will be 69 million teachers short. So whenever we look at that alongside other professions, that’s crisis, because we cannot even make all the other goals. We can’t even touch them without a quality teacher in every single classroom. So that’s definitely been exacerbated by COVID, of course. And it’s also important to remember that you don’t just follow this guy and get a good teacher, it takes years to become a great teacher. So we really don’t have a lot of time to sit on this, you know, a school in the suburbs, fourth grade or English, one honors, there’s no shortage there. So it can kind of give us this false sense of security that no people are lining up to teach in those spaces. And that’s true. It’s everywhere else that is just not the case.
Kimberly Eckert 11:15
So rural areas, urban areas, so areas of high poverty, high minority, that’s definitely a challenge, and an opportunity for schools in America, because we let kids just kind of buy into these least sort of lies, we tell them, like instead of helping them understand what the needs are, like, here are the needs of your community. Here are the jobs. Here’s the projection, because we have that, you know, this is the field that needs you the most, what do you think about that kid, and we don’t really talk about that nearly enough. Now you see why I have so many hats, so many jobs. Like this, this is crucial. Mostly, I think we’re thwarted as human beings, and we’re thwarted as innovators. And we’re sorted as humanitarians when we don’t have enough access to high quality educators, because there’s no way to learn about the needs of the world, and about where we fit in that without an education. And I don’t think that school is the only place that students learn. And I don’t think it’s the only place that education unfolds. But certainly without really competent, strong teachers. Like charting the path. I think it’s pretty bleak. And we already see it. Now we don’t, we’re not going to suddenly wake up in seven years. We’re seeing it now. And if we don’t see today as a problem, then that’s problematic. I did like a really informal poll through Facebook, like a few years ago, but ended up with like, almost 700 respondents there. And the first thing was asking teachers in the profession, what are your worries about the profession, right? And a lot of those kind of boiled down to an increase in standardized testing, teacher pay is always right up there. But actually, the number one issue was lack of respect for the profession, more than 54% of parents now actively discourage their children from becoming teachers. And more than 50% of teachers discourage kids from becoming teachers. So whoa, what got like a big problem there, right? Whenever we think about the fact that particularly in the black community, there was a time where teaching was seen as very prestigious, and people were from the community, and everybody looked up to the teacher, right? There are so many reasons why we’ve gotten away from that.
Kimberly Eckert 13:46
I think about my own experience, and I had one Black teacher. One, that’s it. Some have had none. And then as a black teacher, there are students, white students whose parents called the school to get them taken out of my class, because I’m black, right? So we’ve avoided it, like it’s a pipeline that many people are very comfortable with. So taking a step back from that, it’s easy to lose prestige. Whenever you stop, you lose the ability to see yourself as being a part of that. That’s a pipeline I can never be a part of. So no, it’s not prestigious I’m nothing like you. I don’t belong here. How do I get out? You know, do I drop out? Do I quit? Do I graduate? Like how do I actually leave this space? That is not for me.
Aimée Eubanks Davis 14:36
I can relate to Kimberly. I always say my older sister saved me because she became a lawyer. So I didn’t have to I joked about earlier but it is not a joke. Like my parents were completely outraged when I was like, I’m gonna do Teach For America instead of going to law school. Oh, it was truly terrible. My parents had done everything together. So excellent schools and the professions they dreamed up for us did not include teaching. Because by the time I was graduating college, the profession was no longer highly regarded. Being a teacher has a prestige problem, we need to lift up the profession as one that is highly regarded, including for young Black people. How do we change this more from Kimberly after this break. We’re back with Kimberly Eckert, an educator based in Louisiana, a state hit particularly hard by teacher shortages, enrollment and teacher preparation programs in the state has dropped by 30% over the last decade, teacher pay their ranks low among states in the South, which is a contributing factor. But Kimberly, she says there’s more to that story. Teens today who are choosing a career path don’t always see education as a way to fight for social justice as a way to change the world. But it is. And so it’s her mission to show them that. Here’s Kimberly.
Kimberly Eckert 18:09
Whenever it came time to recruit these students, you know, we would have a come be a teacher come to the lunch meeting, there’s free pizza, and no one was there like party fail. There wasn’t enough pizza in the world to get kids to show their face at the BIA teacher meeting. And so I really had to regroup. And I started to look very specifically like, Okay, we can’t do this the old way. And I don’t want them here if they’re just here for the pizza. Like I need them to want to try this class out. So the first thing we looked at, okay, who are the students? Look, what does the profile look like, of a future teacher? That’s going to be amazing, because I’m very good at teaching teachers, but there are some teachers who are much easier to teach to be good teachers. And those are the ones that already come to us that are problem solvers that are bridge builders that are curious, that are rabble rousers, like give me a good troublemaker, somebody that’s not going to take it lying down, right? Because they’re going to be advocates, they’re gonna be advocates for children and for themselves in the profession. So this whole list like they have a growth mindset. Do they question status quo, like all those things, those what we’re looking for. To be more specific, I knew that if we were going to recruit students of color and males and males of color, that we had to get real clear on the reasons why because the last thing that I was going to do is risk tokenizing these children who I was trying to recruit to being a teacher, and that’s another thing that we dangerously do every single day. And I’m pretty vocal about that as well. Like if you can’t name the reason why other than you need to tick a box, then you please leave that child’s life alone, like do not do that to them. So we got really specific about language and about why their specific presence was going to make the class better and can make the teaching profession better. That really saw massive gains. And so the next year, we had students recruiting other students based on the same elements and the same needs. So to have white students also recruiting hard people of color, like because of a very specific reasons that they could name about how it was going to impact teaching one day, that was a really powerful thing where we knew that we had some success. That first year, I had 17 students, none of them wanted to be a teacher, I had one who was on the fence. And by the end of the year, 15 wanted to be a teacher and five were seniors and signed on to a school of ed. And what made that class so different, was not shying away from uncomfortable topics not shying away from the real need not shying away from inequity not shying away from the things that have historically created such achievement gaps. And that made the students hungry and made them want to be a part of the solution. They love the look at it through a lens of social justice. And it’s where I realize that this generation is the one that’s gonna like do the thing with education. It’s almost like they were born for this. And the reason why it’s because the experiences that they’ve already had in such a short time span of literally shaped a very different kind of person than I think we’ve ever seen before in the world. So now, I mean, there’s hundreds of students where we started off with 17. There’s hundreds across the state, probably over 80 schools, I would say now and it started from this one program and this one class. And now there’s not a single program that starts, a single chapter, a single club that doesn’t understand the mission and how to recruit and the reasons why we recruit the way that we do.
Aimée Eubanks Davis
Kimberly is such a fun person, she has so many jobs, we weren’t even able to include them all in this episode. For instance, she also works at Reach University, which provides people who already work in and around schools like bus drivers, janitors, and teachers’ aides affordable teaching degrees so they can teach in the classroom. No matter what the side hustle, Kimberly is a part of the solution. And that’s what I’ve taken away from this series, we can all work towards being a part of the solution to make our schools more equitable for all students. My one takeaway from the series is about the power of individuals to actually make a huge difference. Whether it’s Tammy curry from Episode Two, who did it in her role as a financial aid officer, or Jason Brooks, from Episode Three, who is now creating a program to track student interactions on Zoom so that Black kids and marginalized people can get more leadership opportunities. I encourage you to think about your own experiences and your own contributions to this community. How can you step up to the plate to help Black students thrive? innovation in education can happen inside and outside of the classroom. The possibilities are endless. Just like educators are there to help our students imagine the endless possibilities. I’m here to inspire you to do the same.
Hello, friendly engineer. Is there anything you’d like me to do? I was trying to recruit him to be a teacher, he tutors.
AFTER 1954 is a production of Lemonada Media. This podcast is brought to you with generous support from the Walton Family Foundation. I’m your host Aimée Eubanks Davis. This episode was produced by Priscilla Àlàbí And Kristen Lepore. Priscilla Àlàbí is our producer Kristen Lepore is our supervising producer. Story editing by Jackie Danziger story consulting by Sonya Ramsay sound design and mixing by Andrea Kristinsdóttir music by Hansdale Hsu. Additional music by Andrea Kristinsdóttir. Additional engineering from Ivan Kuraev. Our executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Special thanks to Liz Thompson, Meredith Moore, Acasia Wilson Feinberg and Maya Thompson. help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms. To learn more about the 1954 project and its mission to fund Black leaders in education visit 1954project.org. You can also get more bonus content and behind the scenes material by subscribing to Lemonada Premium. You can subscribe right now in the Apple podcast app by clicking on our podcast logo, and then the subscribe button. To find resources about the topics in this show. Go to the show notes on this episode. Thanks so much for listening.