Diversity in the classroom: why representation matters
Interaction with learners

Diversity in the classroom: why representation matters

The diversity of teachers is invaluable to all students. Having a teacher of color at the head of a classroom benefits all learners, both academically and through deep and nurturing social emotional bonds. However, according to the White House fact sheet for The plan of American families, while teachers of color may have a particularly strong impact on students of color, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only one in five teachers are people of color, compared to more than half of kindergarten to grade 12 public school students. That’s why President Biden calls on Congress to invest $ 9 billion in American teachers, address shortages, improve teacher training and support, and strengthen teacher diversity.

Why Teacher Diversity Matters

Dr Jacqueline Rodriguez

Representation in the classroom is important. Having a diverse teaching workforce connects cultures, sets high expectations, and reduces implicit biases. All too often, students of color feel isolated, underrepresented, or mistreated, leading to lower degrees and higher dropout rates. Decades of research have shown that teachers of color can help fill the gaps in access and opportunity for students of color while being essential to the well-being of students of all races. With a teacher of color leading a class, students of color see themselves represented and identify with them as role models. A diverse teaching workforce not only supports a student’s academic, social, and emotional outcomes, but can also cause students to consider becoming educators themselves.

In almost all American school districts, students of color outnumber teachers of color. The shortage of teachers of color is felt even more acutely in our male school population. Black and Latino male educators, in particular, make up about 2% each of the teaching population. Since most American children grow up with all female teachers, and a student’s only interaction with men of color can be through television or social media platforms, racial prejudice can and does thrive. early in life. I often ask people to think about their own personal backgrounds. Do you remember having a teacher of color in your schooling? The answer is often no. The follow-up question is always: How would having a male teacher of color in your classroom impact your academic, social and professional performance?

Recruit more diverse teachers

Although research and experience indicate that we need a more diverse teaching force, Educator Preparation Programs (EPP), as well as other Alternative Pathways programs, struggle to recruit teachers from across the country. color in proportion to the number of students of color in public schools. We need to identify students of color who would make great elementary educators and nurture them through leadership roles, programs that meet their interests, and opportunities to support fellow students. The public must also be reminded that education is a means of social change. We must pass on teaching as more than academic teaching; it is a social justice effort that creates equity between people and communities and can correct historical discrimination against citizens of color in our nation.

To help bridge the educational disparities between Men color, the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) created the Black and Hispanic / Latino Network Improvement Community (NIC), which brought together 10 member institutions to use the science of improvement to address the crisis of a shortage of ready-to-learn black and Hispanic / Latino male teachers. This type of collaborative partnership helps to better understand the barriers to recruiting and retaining male teachers of color in educator preparation programs and uncovers potential solutions.

Recruitment of teachers of color must also take place outside of school. Organizing information sessions at community colleges, churches, and cultural centers can help educate students of color to become teachers. We also need to be persistent and proactive when counseling our students of color. A student may not know what questions to ask, and a counselor should not wait for help. In fact, many students may not even know how to ask for advice. A strategy developed from the black and hispanic / latino NIC of the AACTE, intrusive advice is a deliberate interaction with a student that strengthens their motivation and increases their chances of success. Through frequent check-ins, counselors can foster careers in teaching for students of color, understand gaps in educational opportunities, and resolve issues before they begin. Advisors don’t wait for a candidate to seek them out, rather advisers search for the candidate and strike up a conversation.

Financial barriers also exist for many students of color who wish to pursue education as a profession. Through guidance, we can educate students about the options they have when it comes to scholarships, tuition reduction, and financial aid. For example, the Teacher Training Assistance Grant for College and Higher Education (TEACH) offers up to $ 4,000 per year to students who are majoring in a high-need area of ​​education and who will teach for four years in a primary school, a secondary school or an educational service. organization serving students from low-income families. Many states also offer additional grants and other types of financial aid available to students of color. The payment methods for a teaching diploma are described in the AACTE, Information Note: How Do Education Students Pay for College Education?. What is striking about the research is that students of color have to take out more loans or find jobs while continuing their education at significantly higher rates than their white colleagues. We must all advocate for a debt-free education degree, which will attract more applicants and reduce our growing teacher shortage crisis.

Maintain a diverse workforce

As school districts redouble their efforts to recruit more teachers of color, we also need to work hard to retain them for the long term. Teachers of color are leaving the profession at higher rates than white teachers. According to The Institute for Learning Policy19% of teachers of color change schools or leave the profession each year, compared to 15% of white teachers. We know that teacher diversity not only benefits students, but also strengthens teachers of color who are already in the profession. Therefore, before teachers of color enter the field full-time, educator preparation programs can support the retention of applicants of color through the creation of affinity groups, supportive clinical experiences and residency models that include partnerships between the preparedness program and the district.

Mentorship programs and affinity groups on college campuses are effective ways of providing teacher candidates of color with a place to interact with those of the same race, ethnicity or culture. Students can share lived experiences, create spaces where they feel recognized and respected, and celebrate a common passion for teaching. In addition, PEPs must continue to create and maintain environments that equally value all student contributions. Educators should continue to develop their curriculum and classroom experiences from a culturally appropriate perspective, valuing the historical contributions of people of color, people with disabilities, and people from LGBTQ + communities.

We must also ensure that teachers of color in our country are financially rewarded for their work. Teachers in low-income schools tend to receive below-average salaries. For this reason, many students of color in high poverty areas are educated by novice teachers with minimal classroom experience. Or worse, these instructors can be totally untrained. Thus, students in low-income communities receive the fewest resources and teachers the least prepared. Without the financial means to continue teaching in low-income communities, many teachers will continue this work temporarily, moving towards more lucrative teaching opportunities in high-income communities. It is crucial that we pay our teachers a salary that reflects their impact on our society, values ​​their expertise and allows them to live comfortably without the need for a second job.

Takeaway meals

Having a racially and culturally diverse teaching workforce is essential for all students. For students of color, having a teacher of the same race can have a lasting effect on their school and life course. Viewing members of their own race / ethnicity as role models in positions of authority has essential educational benefits. As a nation, we must commit to building a diverse, high-quality teaching workforce that reduces teacher turnover and improves learning and academic outcomes for all students.

Dr Jacqueline Rodriguez is Vice President of Research, Policy and Advocacy at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), where she leads strategy and content development for scholarships, programs and association professional learning, state and federal policy and advocacy initiatives.