The Mental Health Struggle of America’s Black Teachers

The pandemic and racism create a stressful back-to-school time

Rainier Harris


An instructor helps a student with her online school lesson at a desk separated from others by plastic barriers on September 10, 2020 in Culver City, California. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

With Covid-19 cases in Illinois on the rise, Glenbard Township High School District plans to continue remote instruction, which began on August 17, at least through mid-October. But as the weeks go by, Black teachers in the district are facing increasing anxiety about navigating in-person education in a pandemic.

Teresa Lawrence, EdD, 54, teaches English to grades 9–12 at Glenbard East High School. As an African American woman, Lawrence says she is conscious that “for many of my students, [I will] be the first Black teacher they ever have.” While in-person instruction would be ideal for her interaction with students, she fears it because of her underlying conditions.

Lawrence has diabetes and sickle cell anemia, and her husband, who is almost 60, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which puts them both in at-risk groups for severe forms of Covid-19. Lawrence is not financially ready to retire, so she can’t avoid in-person instruction. “I trust in God, and I pray to try and assuage those fears as best I can,” she says. “My faith is a big part of who I am, and that’s what I use to sustain me.”