Durham school board hosts 1st-ever recruitment night for black teachers

The Durham District School Board has embarked on a push to bring more black educators into the classroom.

Push to hire more diverse teaching staff is part of plan to tackle systemic racism in the board

Two women swap resumes at the Durham District School Board's recruiting night for black teachers in Pickering, Ont. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

The Durham District School Board has taken its first step towards getting more black teachers in its schools. 

On Thursday, the board hosted its first-ever recruiting night targeted at black educators in Pickering, Ont. This gave attendees a chance to network with school board members and other teachers.

"We know that there's a lack of diversity in our schools and we want to make a change about that," said Eleanor McIntosh, chair of Durham's Black Educators Network.

"When students see themselves mirrored in any level, in any of the schools, in any of the staff it adds to their engagement, it adds to their motivation and it validates their identity," said McIntosh.

The push to recruit more black teachers is just one component of a multi-pronged strategy created by the board to improve the experience of their black students and tackle systemic racism. 

The hope is to reverse trends that see black students streamed into courses below their ability and to reflect student diversity in a region with a growing black population. The number of black residents in Durham increased by about 10,000 people between 2011 and 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

"Our community is changing but our workforce hasn't changed at the same rate," said Lisa Millar, the board's director of education. 

A lack of role models

Teacher Carlene Morris, who attended Thursday's events and who grew up in Ajax, says she remembers all too well the feeling of being the only black student in her classes. 

"I didn't have a teacher of colour, an instructor of colour, until my first year of university," Morris said. "It matters."

After teaching abroad for many years, Morris said she hopes the event will lead to landing a job in her hometown.

Teacher Carlene Morris struggled with a lack of black role models while growing up in Ajax, Ont. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

"There's something at the heart of teaching young boys and girls who look like me, because I didn't see me on television, I didn't see me in any element when I was growing up. Things have changed a lot but there's still so much to do," she said. 

Beyond the hiring push, Durham also plans to tackle a laundry list of other measures to combat systemic racism, including new programs for black students, support for black studies classes in high schools, and mandatory training for staff and administration.