Weaving a Richer Tapestry: Inviting, Welcoming, and Supporting Teachers of Color in Catholic Schools

Written by John Beltramo, Antonio Felix, Héctor Martinez, and Maritza Ortiz

Over the last decade, Catholic schools have grown increasingly diverse ethnically, racially and linguistically, better reflecting the rich cultural tapestry of the Church. At the same time, this diversity has yet to be fully reflected within the population of Catholic school educators more generally. While all Catholic school teachers bring gifts to their classrooms, research suggests that teachers of color bring particular assets and affordances to Catholic schools, for example, by sharing culturally and/or linguistically rich practices of faith with their students, acting as mentors for students of color and building bridges between diverse communities and the schools that accompany them. Compounding the need for educators of color in Catholic schools is the current shortage of teachers, especially in the South and West regions of the U.S. Our team (John, a white teacher educator; Antonio, a Latino university administrator; and Maritza and Héctor, Latina/o middle school teachers) have spent years exploring this question: How can leaders in Catholic education more effectively invite, welcome and support the teachers of color that our schools need today?

Recruiting and Inviting Teachers of Color into Catholic Schools

We’ve learned that intentional, relationship-centered efforts can attract and invite promising candidates of color to consider a vocation in Catholic education.

  • John teams up with leaders of local dioceses to sponsor Catholic School Career Fairs that invite parishioners and second-career seekers from diverse communities to consider a move to Catholic school teaching.
  • Our team has cultivated impactful relationships with local higher education institutions to connect with and support college students of color: We regularly contact Newman Centers and university-based campus ministries, as well as clubs serving students of color at local Catholic universities (e.g., first-gen leadership groups, MEChA, etc.) so that we can meet with diverse, faith-filled individuals, share with them the joys of teaching and invite them to discern a vocation in Catholic education. We’ve also created partnerships between dioceses and Catholic university-sponsored teacher education programs so that new teachers–especially new teachers of color–receive substantial tuition assistance as they take courses toward their teaching credential/license. Antonio and John have both directed such university-sponsored programs and have seen how scholarships open doors to many socioeconomically diverse candidates who are interested in teaching.
  • We partner with local Catholic K-12 schools serving communities of color by tapping into their network of alumni and encouraging their graduates to consider a return to Catholic schools as teachers. Both Héctor and Maritza now teach for the Catholic middle schools they once attended as kids and have laid the foundation of an internal pipeline of diverse teachers for their schools.
  • Across these efforts, we’ve worked intentionally with leaders of color from Catholic schools who are uniquely positioned to help candidates of color discern a vocation in teaching. For example, Antonio has leveraged his mentorship of former students of color to encourage and inspire several of them to become teachers themselves.

Welcoming Teachers of Color into Catholic Schools

Once Catholic schools hire new teachers of color, we’ve learned that intentional efforts to welcome them are essential to their initiation and integration into campus communities.

  • When Antonio led a Catholic elementary school, partnering his new teachers of color with an experienced colleague of color provided the immediate mentorship necessary for developing their professional identities and helping them learn the school culture.
  • John collaborates with schools that regularly incorporate diverse languages and cultural traditions into school practices, such as integrating Spanish readings and songs at school Masses, translating all school communications into languages spoken in the community, etc. These efforts let teachers of color know that their cultural practices matter and are central to the school’s identity.
  • Schools can also encourage their faculty to practice culturally relevant teaching so that teachers of color like Héctor and Maritza feel welcome to integrate what they already know about diverse communities into their classroom teaching.

Supporting and Developing Teachers of Color

Research that Antonio and others have conducted shows that teachers of color benefit from intentional supports that foster belonging and development across their careers.

  • Particularly impactful are affinity groups for teachers of color, spaces where teachers of color can gather regularly to share and collaboratively solve professional challenges. For the past two years, Maritza and Héctor have helped lead an affinity group that provides critical growth, validation and care for teachers of color in their diocese.
  • Schools and dioceses can make concerted efforts to encourage and guide experienced teachers of color into leadership roles, where their diverse perspectives can immensely benefit school decision-making processes. Antonio and John have partnered with schools and dioceses in identifying promising teachers of color and channeling them into leadership opportunities.

Across these strategies, we’ve learned that intentionality, collaboration and change are necessary for cultivating teachers of color, who can collectively weave richer tapestries of community that strengthen all our Catholic schools.

Come see this team of dynamic educational leaders at NCEA 2024. Their session, Weaving a Richer Tapestry: Inviting, Welcoming and Supporting Teachers of Color in Catholic Schools, will be featured on Day Two.