Intel & Insights

We Need More Teachers of Color

We Need More Teachers of Color

By Kavitha Thimmaiah / @kavithat

Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center released data showing that for the first time the majority of students enrolled in public schools are racial or ethnic minorities. Contrastingly, only 18 percent of teachers in the 2011-2012 school year were also racial or ethnic minorities. While some people may point to deficits in recruitment, there is data that hints the lack of diversity may be related to retention issues instead.

Education professor and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, Richard Ingersoll conducted a study that found in the 20-year period between 1988 and 2008, non-white teachers in Pennsylvania were 24 percent more likely to leave teaching when compared to white teachers. This research followed large-scale teacher recruitment campaigns to diversify the profession in the state during the 1980s but no correlation or explanation was offered between the increased number of racial and ethnic minorities who entered teaching and those who left.

Teachers who are minorities leave schools for many reasons, including feeling isolated or stereotyped – particularly in schools where there are relatively few minorities. Another common cause is the environments they often teach in, since these teachers are in all likelihood teaching at low-performing schools and/or with at-risk students.

Many programs have been started that aim to change the racial and ethnic make-up of the teaching profession, but a good amount of them focus on recruitment instead of retention. A few programs however, such as Grow Your Own Teachers in Illinois, The Boston Teacher Residency and The Collective, Teacher for America’s national alumni association for teachers of colors are taking steps to ensure teachers are supported at the beginning of their career so they are more likely to persist.

Why It Matters

Having racial and ethnic diverse teachers can provide many benefits to schools, students and other teachers. In planning curriculum, having people of different backgrounds can create opportunities to develop more inclusive classroom units. Teachers who are racial and ethnic minorities may also understand the behavior, actions or attitudes of students who are also minorities; though it is important to note that teachers who are white can also express such cultural sensitivity. Finally, there is a power to being what you see, meaning that when a student sees a teacher who looks like them, it latently shows them what might be possible in their own lives. 

Source: Where have all the black and brown teachers gone?