I don’t think I’ve ever spelled out the word, “beholden” — let alone understood what it meant — until three months ago. The son of immigrants, “beholden to money” sounded like where I wanted to be when I was 11, and my family of four had to cram into a Mark 2 conversion van with seven other relatives.
I came to appreciate the phrase, “beholden to money,” when I was talking with my school’s Chief Financial Officer about the idea for what is now called the Pipeline Collaborative and learned that we could avoid liability as a company if we as an organization weren’t “beholden to money.” Our model depends instead on teachers who want to impart their message to the next generation.
The idea behind the Pipeline Collaborative is a simple one: Independent school administrators of color travel to a local college campus, host a table outside the student center or the career center, share a brief presentation about our schools, and invite college students of color for pre-screening interviews. Perhaps most importantly, we share our own experiences of navigating majority-white institutions and explain why we continue to build our lives in independent schools.
I thought to create the Pipeline Collaborative when I saw myself in so many of the teaching candidates of color that I interviewed at hiring fairs as part of my job as Assistant Dean of Faculty in an independent school. These conversations made me smile; I enjoyed telling candidates about how I was able to bring speakers that interested me to my school and about how the city I lived in had a James Beard-nominated Indian chef within four miles of my house, and how over the years I have seen the likes of Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Trevor Noah, and Aziz Ansari on a teacher’s salary. It was important to me to tell them that along with evening and weekend duty, working at a boarding school also includes the opportunity to hire students of color who reflect my daughters’ skin tone as babysitters.
When I share my lived experience over the interview table, I am certain I am not a token. Granted, the two white administrators who did my job at hiring fairs before me wanted what was best for the school, and they wanted diversity; shoot, they even found me at the same kind of hiring fair! The job was made for me, I desperately wanted it, and with my two daughters looking ahead to life on campus, I needed to be the one to do it because eight years into our life in North Carolina, the number of faculty of color at my school had dipped again to one, me. This was not a new experience for me, but it felt different now, because as I looked ahead, I saw my daughters starting their freshman year, and I needed my girls to see their “otherness” reflected in the expertise around them. Representation matters and so does consistency.
But when I reached out directly to colleges and universities to try to connect with students of color there, I was challenged to make those connections. I knew that I wasn’t really opening a pipeline if the students who came to talk with me already knew about independent schools or were the predominantly white products of them. On one visit I made, of the 12 students out of a possible 3,000 that I was able to meet, there were just six students of color who were curious about independent schools, and the odds were low that those six students would end up seeking to work in my school. The seed was planted too late and their interest was minimal.
Then the idea hit me — what if instead of talking about one school with three openings, I had knowledge of jobs in 12 schools, in 10 different states? These schools would be both boarding and day and all with someone like me who was qualified but still at times knew what it meant to be “the only.” If I and other colleagues of color in independent schools could make our way on to hiring committees, we could ensure that if one of these college students made it onto campus, they would be made to feel welcome.
A Different Kind of Profit
At its core, the dream of the Pipeline is to make the independent school industry so transparent that students considering a career in teaching are having direct conversations with teachers in the field. Without being revenue driven, ideas such as leveraging LinkedIn become apparent as a win-win-win in keeping direct connections with administrators over the course of a career while simultaneously educating teaching candidates about the importance of a professional resume and removing the liability associated with housing resumes. Before the Pipeline was started, however, it almost died on the vine because we as a collaborative group could not afford to be ”beholden to money.” The cost of working with an intellectual property lawyer or even drafting the most basic Memorandum of Understanding was too high. We muddled on anyway, and after a bit of a discount schools found no reason not to join. All that is needed for schools to join are three high-quality images, two concise descriptions, and a commitment to visit a local college or university. At this point, the costs associated will be absorbed until we prove that we are a viable alternative to the current hiring model.
The website in its current form cost the equivalent of one administrative team dinner, a Thanksgiving break creating a website, and a lot of joyful hours connecting with colleagues of color. What remains to be done is to bring the Pipeline Collaborative to colleges where we can meet with students of color thinking about, or open to, teaching in independent schools. With many hands, we can make light work of opening the door to opportunity, an opportunity that inevitably will sustain us in the process. It took me more than 20 years to understand that service is the joy you feel when you are not beholden to money.