The Crisis in Education
Teacher Diversity is an education crisis. When my grandparents and parents graduated from college and began their teaching careers, teaching was one of the most highly regarded, well respected careers a person could pursue. Teaching was an occupation equivalent to a religious calling. Teachers had celebrity-like status in the Black community. It was common to call a male teacher “prof” as a title of respect even if he was not an actual professor. That was then.
Is the Teaching Profession Raced and Gendered?
Today, states and districts are struggling to attract and retain minority teachers. Roughly 83% of public school teachers are White. In fact, the gap between teacher diversity and student diversity has never been wider. While the nation’s students are increasingly more racially and ethnically diverse, the shift in the teaching profession has not kept pace. There is not a single state that has equally diverse populations of teachers and students.
In addition, K-12 teaching has become somewhat of a gendered role, with more than 76% of the teachers being female. Black males make up 2% of this nation’s teachers. Some of this disparity is attributable to the fact that there are more Whites enrolling in and graduating from colleges and universities than are Blacks and Hispanics; and they complete teacher preparation programs in higher numbers as well. According to the Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), more than 80% of the bachelor’s degrees in education in 2009-10 were awarded to White students.
Lack of Teacher Diversity is An Education Crisis
The lack of teacher diversity is an education crisis that has implications for student experiences and performance. Just think – students, the majority of whom are minority, can go through their educational careers never having had a teacher of color. That’s not good for any student, and particularly troublesome for students of color. Here are three reasons why teacher diversity matters:
- Teachers of color serve as role models for students of color in ways that White teachers cannot. This should not be shocking. Seeing a teacher who looks like them in the front of the classroom gives students of color a visual of academic accomplishment and successful leadership that can help them “reconceive what’s possible” for them.
- Students of color perform better academically when taught by teachers of color. When teachers and students share cultural backgrounds and experiences, there is a relatability factor that promotes mutual trust and understanding; students view the schools as more welcoming places. Studies have also shown that Black teachers tend to hold higher expectations of Black students than their White counterparts and this leads to more successful outcomes. When students find success in school, they are more motivated to continue and this has a profound impact on graduation rates for students of color.
- White students also benefit from having teachers of color. When White students encounter teachers of color, they get to see minorities in leadership positions from whom they learn and respect. This can shape a mental model of diversity and inclusion that leads to better cross-racial relationships throughout life.
Closing the Gap in Teacher and Student Diversity
To close the gap between teacher and student diversity, we must have a national imperative to attract and retain teachers of color. What does it take to get more minority teachers back in the classroom? The attraction of minority teachers needs to start earlier by identifying promising educators while they are still in high school. According to a New York Times article entitled, “Where are the Teachers of Color?” the Boston Public Schools are doing just that.
They have run a pilot program in four high schools to begin cultivating students interested in teaching careers.
Another strategy is to fish where the fish are. This means states and districts have to commit to a more sophisticated talent scout approach. School districts have to invest in sending teacher scouts to states and universities to find and compete for more diverse teachers. Again, Boston Public Schools serves as an example. With one Hispanic teacher for every 52 Hispanic students in Boston, the school district has started sending recruiters to states like Texas and Arizona in an effort to find Hispanic teachers.
A third avenue to attract more teachers of color is alternative teacher programs like Teach for America. The non-profit’s mission is to enlist, develop, and mobilize the nation’s best and brightest to strengthen educational equity and excellence. To realize this mission, the non-profit recruits diverse individuals to become teachers in low-income communities. Teach.org is another organization sponsored by a group of public, private and government sponsors. It provides resources for individuals interesting in exploring the teaching profession and has a goal of recruiting more than a million teachers within the next 10 years.
A Personal Plea
Finally, perhaps a lesser used strategy to attract more teachers of color is to make a more personal plea to students of color and to those in career transition. I haven’t read any research or stats on whether this tactic is used and if used, whether it is successful. It’s just my gut. I’m wondering if more Blacks and Hispanics could be enticed to enter the teaching profession by appealing to their altruistic desires to make a difference in their communities, to help drive a renaissance of sorts that can lead to increased efficacy and collective empowerment. This is what led my grandparents and parents to teaching. A high value was placed on education and teaching.
If students of color have teachers who look like them and they have positive experiences, the lure is to engage them to help replicate those experiences for other students of color. If they didn’t have teachers who looked like them and they wish they had, the message is even more compelling. I think there is power in appealing to young potential teachers and helping them envision a legacy that could change the trajectory of their communities.
After all, are we really putting the education of our children on the shoulders of White teachers only? What is our responsibility to educate our children?
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