The Tapestry of the American Classroom Needs More Color
Mary has been teaching in an urban school for over 20 years. She describes her career, “I love teaching where I do. I love the community, the children, and my colleagues. I have been growing more concerned, however, with the number of teachers of color that are being let go, not being granted tenure, and leaving our school.” Mary is a white teacher but she teaches predominantly children of color. Mary further states, “Losing my colleagues of color is heart wrenching to me but I will tell you mostly it is a huge disservice to my students of color who need to see people of color in front of the classroom.” In 2012 there were 3.3 million teachers in America. According to the National Center for Education Statistics 83% were white, 8% were Hispanic, 7% were black, and 2% were Asian. When the 2007/2008 data was examined we found that 84% of teachers were white, 6.7 were black, 6.9% were Hispanic, and 1.3% were Asian. So, in a 4 year span we saw the small jump for our Teachers of .3% points. We have a teacher diversity problem in this country. In 2013 and 2014 children of color became the majority in our public schools but 82% of our teaching force is white. As a nation we need to become concerned that the figure has not risen significantly in over a decade. We need to be concerned that although the populations of our students of color has grown significantly the numbers for our teachers of color has not. What is perhaps most concerning is that in 2011, 59% of our teachers of color taught in urban areas which has been the target of most of the nations’ school closings.
Why do we have a teacher of color shortage? According to Richard Ingersoll, an education professor and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, between 1988 and 2008 we had more teachers of color leaving teaching then entering it. Why are so many teachers of color leaving the teaching profession and why are so little entering the profession? LaRuth Gray, a scholar in residence at the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University stated in an interview for the Boston Globe, “Teaching used to be one of the few professions that black college graduates could aspire to and make decent money but as the country integrated and other professions opened their ranks, education lost its cachet and fewer black students thought about becoming teachers.”
When Ivory A. Toldson conducted an analysis of the top 10 occupations among black and white males he found that the No. 1 profession for college-educated black men was primary school teacher. Which takes us back to the data on school closings; Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, and other major cities that have experienced school closings, if we look back at the data that 59% of our urban teachers are teachers of color, we can safely assume that the college-educated black man, who chooses teaching in primary schools as their No. 1 profession, are losing their jobs at a higher rate than their white counterparts. The benefits of hiring and retaining teachers of color funnel to children in the classroom and beyond. Research shows us that when children have teachers of the same backgrounds they do better in school, graduate at higher rates, and are suspended less. As well several studies in the 1980s and 1990s found that teachers of color elevate the self-worth of students of color. An analysis of the research by Sabrina Zirkel shows us that race- and gender- matched role models have even more of an importance for our youth than providing them with information about how to behave. Rather, the true importance lies in the fact that such role models provide youth with a sense of place and value in the importance of building the future.
How do schools become active in the process to hire and promote teachers of color? The hiring process starts with the active recruitment plans that involve a direct action plan, community involvement, inclusion of all stakeholders, and partnering with organizations that actively seek to employ persons of color. Active recruitment is not enough and action planning must continue through the hiring process. Any hiring committee that is formed needs to reflect the diversity, while including members of all populations within the school, including student and parent representatives as well as members of the faculty from all different staffing levels. The hiring process should also actively involve the candidate as a member by allowing viable candidates to fully examine the role they will be playing in the school as well as an opportunity to discuss how they can fulfill and expand upon that role.
After such an investment in the recruitment and hiring process of teachers of color, to neglect support for the retention of these teachers would be to invalidate the process as a whole. Review of turnover rates and monitoring of progress towards attainment of diversity goals are basic steps to analyzing success of these actions. But to proactively promote the long-term employment of teachers of color, certain aspects need to be identified and actively supported. Teachers of color need to be heard and they need to be seen in our schools. They can play an active, and valued, role in educating faculty and students about race and privilege. We have a diversity problem in our schools. The tapestry of the American classroom needs more teachers of color. Children of color need to see them and children who are white need to see them! The tapestry of the American classroom needs to be diverse so that our children can experience the value of diverse role models.