I just read this piece from Education Post about recruiting teachers of color, and it’s been on my mind lately. The story basically describes how the number of minority students are on the rise across the country, yet the schools they’re attending have few – if any – teachers that look like them.
I immediately thought back to my own public school experiences and realized that no matter what school or grade I was in, there were always adults nearby that looked and talked like me. In fact, throughout all my years of public K-12 education, I only had one teacher of color. Just one.
While that may not seem like a huge deal in the big scheme of my life and my career, we know that representation matters for young people. Every kid deserves a role model that looks like them.
But what if, for whatever reason, that’s not happening? What if you grow up in a town like mine where there just aren’t many teachers of color? If students can’t have teachers that look like them, they should at least have teachers who nurture diversity and equity in their school communities. That’s the least we can do.
There are more people talking about equity than ever before, yet achievement gaps have barely closed at all. That makes me worry that there a lot of people out there just paying lip service to social justice instead of actually doing anything to fix the inequities in our schools.
We need teachers who are promoting cultural competency in every subject, in every grade level, in every classroom. Our kids deserve better than that.
One reason behind this is that there aren’t enough university teaching programs that deeply embed cultural competency into their courses. Panelists from a recent discussion at the Capitol agree, according to the Hechinger Report. They argue that our universities aren’t effectively embedding the skills needed for teachers to serve in diverse classrooms.
It’s no wonder why former Education Secretary Arne Duncan once called education programs the “Bermuda Triangle of higher education.” Some individuals sift through and end up being successful teachers; others, on the other hand, go missing.
We know that great teachers are built, not born, so why are we having so much trouble building teachers who can teach to everyone? To me, the fact that universities have been stagnant at producing teaching candidates from diverse backgrounds just goes to show us that there are some deeper structural issues at play here.
And of course, there’s still the original issue that our teaching force doesn’t match what our kids look like. Just like the article mentions, diversity among our student body is increasing year by year, but our teacher demographics remain firmly White and female, as they’ve always been.
It’s not about diversity for the sake of diversity. The reality is that having teachers of color benefits all students, including White students.
Still, these truths remain: we need more teachers who hail from culturally diverse backgrounds themselves, but we also need more teachers in general who are effective at promoting cultural competency.
I say we can do both. Let’s demand high quality preparation for our future teachers, and let’s ramp up our recruitment efforts to connect this country’s inspiring young people of color with schools where they can flourish. Our kids deserve it.