The United States’ educational landscape lacks diversity and would benefit from an increase of racial diversity and cultural competence. According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Education titled, “The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce,” in the years of 2011-12, 82 percent of public school teachers were white, 7 percent black and 8 percent latino, while approximately half of the student population is black and latino.
The vast majority of children of color will go through their entire educational career without having a teacher of the same ethnic background who has shared experiences or can identify with their culture or heritage.
The National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force states that having more teachers of color would:
- Increase the number of role models for students of color
- Provide opportunities for all students to learn about ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity
- Be able to enrich diverse students’ learning because of shared racial, ethnic, and cultural identities
- Serve as cultural brokers, able not only to help students navigate their school environment and culture, but also to increase the involvement of other teachers and their students’ parents
Not only must teachers of color be recruited, but they must also be retained, be it from traditional routes or alternative routes to entering the classroom. Black educators are on a mission to change the narrative surrounding blackness and education. Hear from black educators of varying grades, experience, roles and passions in education:
How did you get into the field of education and what is your “why” for doing so?
I got into education by the traditional route. I was a print journalism major my first year of college. I wanted to write for either a newspaper or magazine, but I decided there wasn’t a future in it because print was/is a dying industry. I was also bored to death in the few journalism classes I took, so I decided to still put my love for writing and language arts to use by becoming an English teacher (my certification is Middle Level Education 4-8 Language Arts/Social Studies). I immediately clicked with and fell in love with my education courses. Best decision I ever made! One of my favorite quotes about education is from Marian Wright Edelman: “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” That’s my why. Education is my gateway to leave my mark! -Jessica, 5th Grade Reading Teacher
I first started in the educational field at 19 years old. At that time, Obama had an incentive out for educators that would provide grants to educators that had 2+ years experience. That is when my educational journey started at the Kids Involvement Network, an after school program with NEISD. From that space I moved up to Assistant Director of a program with 204 students and 11 staff members. Throughout this time I was gaining valuable work experience that student teaching would never give you. From there I have taught at NISD as an after school director and trainer, and as a general education teacher for IDEA Public Schools, Compass Rose Academy and KIPP Texas Public Schools. I have two “whys” for entering the educational field. First, I entered the educational field because I believe that ALL children deserve excellent education. This is something that I didn’t receive as a middle school student who moved around a lot during critical times in my life. I also want to show African American students that being black in America with an education is a very powerful thing and is very important. My second “why” is that I wanted to continue to pay forward all the greatness that I was able to be apart of, from other educators that I had the pleasure of working with at a young age or had the honor of learning from. -Renaldo, 5th Grade Science Teacher
Non-Traditional. I started out in the medical field with a biology degree, then when I got married I had to quit my job and started substitute teaching. I then was asked to apply to teach math at a charter school in Fort Smith. Now I’m in my second year as a 12th grade math teacher! I kind of ran from the educational field because my mom is a teacher and I’ve been around kids all my life. It just didn’t seem like something I could see myself doing during college. But the first day I subbed at my now current school, my “why” instantly came to me. I’m here to change students’ lives and give them an authentic outlook on life. -Lindsey, 12th Grade Math Teacher
How has your identity contributed to your successes and challenges?
I work at a predominantly black Title I school. Being young and black and working with adolescents has been beneficial for me in several ways. Some of my students view me as a big sister or young aunt. I even have a former student who still calls me mama. Because I’m younger, I keep up with what’s “in” and how to best capture my students’ attention and interests. I feel it also makes me more approachable. There are challenges as well. With a lot of my students, our skin color is the only thing we have in common. I grew up middle class in a small, rural town. There are challenges my students, who are growing up in a high poverty urban community, face that I can’t necessarily relate to because I’ve never experienced them. -Jessica, 5th Grade Reading Teacher
I personally believe that how you are perceived is very important in our society. It is a natural instinct for people to judge and and make an opinion. So why not give them something positive and excellent to make an inference on? That is why I strive to consistently make sure that I am a strong (physically and mentally), positive, goal driven African American male. When focused on these things, it has helped me be respected by peers of different levels, help make access for those who may not have and help guide them to excellence. And while all of this sounds grand, I have also experienced more jealously, envy and racism because of my identity. This challenge now makes me work twice as hard to get half of what they have so I can make sure that equality is met. -Renaldo, 5th Grade Science Teacher
My identity has contributed to my successes in the number of students I have been able to connect with. As a young, black, female teacher, I am able to connect with young people on a level most teachers can’t. I am seen as the strong black woman to the students but to some of my coworkers, I am seen as the angry black woman, which is a challenge. -Lindsey, 12th Grade Math Teacher
What is one issue that you’re passionate about relating to education?
Literacy! It’s the key to everything. Soon I hope to pursue a master’s degree in library science or reading. I’m especially passionate about closing the literacy gap in high poverty areas. -Jessica, 5th Grade Reading Teacher
One issue that I am really a passionate about is the gap of quality teachers in rural area schools with students who need those teachers the most. I’m also passionate about what it’s going to take to getting all teachers the proper training to work with students with different ethnicities so that they can still be effective and relatable. -Renaldo, 5th Grade Science Teacher
One issue I’m passionate about is stereotyping different cultures of kids. A lot of the black students in my school are viewed as the “bad kids.” They are not bad, they are just misunderstood. And ff teachers would try to establish a relationship with them, they would be able to understand their moods. And just because they are labeled as “bad” doesn’t mean that they are “uneducated.” -Lindsey, 12th Grade Math Teacher