Researching History's Impact on Educational Policies

Written by: Ashley Green (
Post date: September 06, 2016

When it comes to recruiting and retaining the best teachers in our school districts, the answer may be found by questioning teachers from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

For her dissertation, Dr. Detra Johnson focused on the 1965 desegregation policy and how it relates to teachers and career longevity. She interviewed three African-American female teachers in a rural Texas school district about their experiences teaching before, during and after desegregation. She wanted to understand how resiliency and self-determination might be able to provide information for the foundations of career longevity and teacher retention which impact teacher effectiveness and student achievement.

“These three African-American female teachers described how they tried to instill the same characteristics that they used to remain in the career with the students, both white and black, considering the changes and challenges that they were and would experience in life.”

While interviewing the former teachers, Dr. Johnson felt both empathetic and sympathetic, having been a teacher herself. She experienced similar adversities while teaching in schools where she was one of a few educators of color and worries that trend will continue.

“My thoughts were that of concern that some current teachers and administrators were still experiencing challenges similar to those of these African-American female teachers from the past. I genuinely surmised that something was gravely and systematically wrong and definite changes were needed.”

Dr. Johnson believes that addressing and supporting the needs of the largest majority of student demographics, students of color, can contribute to needed changes in our education system. The goal is to improve access and the quality of education for all students. She believes understanding diversity and differences among students, educators and administrators can be crucial for the sustainability and productivity of our school districts.

“Based on my research, my top priority for administrators will be how to effectively recruit quality teachers who exhibit characteristics of resilience and self-determination.”

The hope is to find a way to find the best teachers and let them train incoming teachers while providing support to keep teachers in the field. “We are spending a lot of money on teacher development. Districts spend x number of dollars training teachers and then the next year they leave and go to another district of leave the field all together.”

Dr. Johnson wants to apply her research with current teachers to see if they exhibit the same characteristics of the teachers interviewed with the goal of determining if something is happening across the profession that is causing teachers to leave.

“I think it’s about offering the best support either through mentoring, coaching or professional development. It really starts from school leadership,” explained Dr. Johnson. “Being a former classroom teacher myself, I know that if you’re being supportive and you’re motivating a student that student will do whatever it is that you ask of them and they will exceed what they consider their own limitations. The same applies to teachers. If an administrator is giving them support, motivation and respect, then that teacher will do whatever it is that is needed.”