Simone Ngongi-Lukula: What is Needed to Support Young People of Color to Achieve a Career in Education

Three research fellows from Rennie’s Future Education Leaders Network reflect on ways to support young people of color interested in working in the education space. Their blog posts focus on the push and pull young people of color face in their pathways to education, highlighting research on financial, social, and emotional barriers to educators entering and remaining in the field. The fellows also shed light on their own personal experiences and share their reflections from having gone through the education workforce pipeline themselves. Read Simone Ngongi-Lukula's reflections below or read more about this project and other fellows' reflections.


Simone Ngongi-Lukula is an Education Equity Fellow at MassINC. In her role, she examines structural barriers in education and conducts research on how the Commonwealth can address the urgent needs of students and families whose identities have been marginalized. Simone has a background in public policy and STEM education research. She earned a B.A. from Boston University, Wheelock College, and an M.S.Ed in Urban Education Policy from the University of Pennsylvania, and she is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Education Policy. Read on to hear Simone’s reflections on what is needed to support young people of color to achieve a career in education.

As a first-generation, bilingual Black African girl, I quickly learned that there was little space for me in public school. During my early school years, my identifiers shaped the trajectory of my academic life and led me to struggle with my sense of identity, belonging, and security in school.

I found myself at war with my intersecting identities. While the formal public school system privileged the English language as the primary standard for achievement, maintaining my Congolese heritage through my home language, Lingala, was important to me. Congo was part of my identity, but school taught me that being Congolese and speaking Lingala was not good enough. My culture and heritage were to be left outside the school doors, to be hidden. This experience taught me what it felt like to be marginalized and to be “othered” because of my cultural and ethnic differences.

I believe that culturally sustaining practices would have transformed my early academic experiences, and I believe such practices can improve the learning experiences and outcomes for students today. I also can look back and know that culturally affirming practices would have enhanced my educational experience and nurtured my cultural uniqueness as a Bantu child of Congolese immigrants.

Research on the U.S. education system demonstrates that having teachers of color improves student engagement, achievement, and cross-cultural interaction. Particularly for students of color, having teachers of color results in long-lasting benefits, such as an increased likelihood of being referred to gifted and talented programs, a decreased likelihood of being suspended in school, and an increased likelihood of completing high school and attending college. The influence of even one Black teacher on a Black student as early as elementary school can last a lifetime.

Despite this clear and positive impact, evidence also suggests that districts and schools are having difficulty recruiting and retaining educators of color. Teachers of color report feeling called to the profession to improve schooling experiences for students of color, but in reality they face a unique set of adverse teaching conditions. Regardless of where they teach and despite providing extra academic and personal emotional and physical labor in schools, Black and Latino teachers are more likely to feel de-professionalized (or treated as less of a professional than their colleagues). Black teachers across the U.S. have also reported experiencing racial discrimination and stereotyping in their schools (with in their colleagues lacking respect for their expertise as educators), being pigeonholed as disciplinarians, and feeling obligated to take on additional responsibilities to support Black students “beyond the academic curriculum” by caring for them as whole beings. This is partly due to the fact that they are generally perceived to have similar demographic backgrounds to their students. These factors contribute to educators of color leaving the profession at a higher rate than their White colleagues.

The traditional ways of understanding schooling, teaching, and teacher education must be examined in order to achieve equity and support diversity. Teacher training is largely based on programs and philosophical frameworks grounded in White-dominant cultural norms, so schools and pre-service programs must explore innovative and alternative pathways to address structural, institutional, and environmental factors that continue to exclude and push out educators of color.  In order to not only recruit and retain teachers of color, but also increase teacher satisfaction and effectiveness, administrators and teacher educators must evaluate preparation programs with a critical lens, looking for ways to support individuals from a diverse range of cultures and experiences. To reevaluate our assumptions about what constitutes expert teaching is to take pivotal steps towards intentional pathways and support for educators of color.