Food for Thought: Educator Diversity
It’s inevitable: we can only get so far in life before our perception of the world loses its innocence; I remember all too well taking the first steps towards understanding the hidden pockets of truth as a young high school student—the truth about the disproportionate number of minorities in the field of education has most impacted me and my trajectory as an educator.
Klein High School lies in the suburbs of north Houston and is comprised of rigorous academics, diverse learning opportunities, and exciting student activities. However, as a student in this community, I experienced high school with lingering concerns about our educational system. The demographics of Klein High School were: 65% white, 15% Asian, 8% Hispanic, 10% black. With over 3900 students at Klein High School and well over 200 highly qualified teachers, there was only one African-American female instructor, Ms. Wilkes, who had been the only African-American teacher at the school for the past 12 years. Comparatively, there were similar teacher numbers in all of the minority categories at Klein High School. Data from my graduating class showed that 96% of all educators were white. As a young black male aspiring to be an educator, the lack of diversity at my high school was always troubling and the disproportional number of minority educators ignited my personal commitment to this issue. I often wonder if these thoughts plague my students’ minds or if they even notice…
The teacher workforce must reflect the diverse populations of the student community, equipped with highly effective teachers that help our students become life-long learners. Teachers serve as role models and should give our students a clear and concrete sense of what racial diversity looks like outside the school walls. However, our educators do not proportionally reflect the student diversity of our schools. While there are effective teachers in all races, many minority teachers understand what it is like to grow up as a minority student in our educational system—the academic, cultural, social, and even psychological aspects of that experience—and many minority teachers have found success in converting that familiarity into the classroom. Though I was never an “official student” in Ms. Wilkes’ class, I was drawn to her because she was the only black teacher at my high school, and my friends and I always felt comfortable communicating with her. As a rising junior in high school, I lacked confidence to compete academically with my classmates and felt intimated by my peers’ academic success. I remember the day that I admitted my academic insecurities to Ms. Wilkes and how she encouragingly reassured me to take my first honors-level course, citing the importance of challenging my intellect—a trend that has continued through graduate school. In order to give all students a similar sense of belonging and to meet the needs of a growing minority student population, it must be an urgent priority for schools to employ a proportionately diverse teaching staff.
In my heart of hearts, I genuinely believe that school districts, like mine, are making an meaningful effort to reflect the diversity of the student population. So, where is the disconnect in our schools, especially in suburban and affluent areas? How do we get more high qualified minority educators throughout our school systems and not only within urban epicenters? In recent years, increasing attention is being paid to the lack of diversity in the teaching profession. Secretary Arnie Duncan has been particularly vocal about this issue in launching the “TEACH.GOV” initiative and partnering with predominantly minority universities and minority leaders in our communities to promote teaching as a career option. These types of actions must be infused at the state and local levels as well. The crux of this issue is valuing the recruitment and retention of highly effective, ethnically diverse teachers: by aggressively recruiting at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), engaging cultural and minority centers to promote teaching as a career path, providing college internships to target minority students to co-teach during summer school, and creating university mentor programs that support minority students in our district.
(image source: EdNewsDaily)