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A Classroom Need - Diverse Teachers
posted by: Melissa | July 03, 2018, 08:31 PM   

Recently while celebrating National Teacher Appreciation Week and attending The Atlantic’s Education Policy Summit, it was abundantly clear that diversity among teachers has become a top policy issue. However, it has been an ongoing crisis in classrooms throughout the US for decades. In 2016, the US Department of Education commissioned The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce report. The purpose of this report was to provide a current snapshot of the racial diversity of educators in our nation’s elementary and secondary public schools. (Please read it if you have time!)


John B. King, Jr., 10th US Education Secretary under President Obama spoke at Howard University almost two years ago warning, “Without question, when the majority of students in public schools are students of color and only 18 percent of our teachers are teachers of color, we have an urgent need to act. We’ve got to understand that all students benefit from teacher diversity. We have strong evidence that students of color benefit from having teachers and leaders who look like them as role models and also benefit from the classroom dynamics that diversity creates. But it is also important for our white students to see teachers of color in leadership roles in their classrooms and communities. The question for the nation is how do we address this quickly and thoughtfully?”


Have we even begun to address the issue quickly and thoughtfully? The answer is no, according to recent education buzz and statistics. Federal data reveals 53 percent of public school students are children of color, while less than 20 percent of teachers identify as a Person of Color. That lopsided and persistent gap cannot be easily remedied even as state and local institutions seek various ways to improve teacher diversity. It is evident there is no silver bullet – it will take time and many changes in policy and mindsets.


At the Atlantic Education Summit, Sharif El-Mekki, Co-Chair and Founder of The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice and the Principal at Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker Campus, discussed his fellowship efforts and his own personal story of entering the classroom. He is a product of West Philly public schools and after being shot at a high school football game, decided to dedicate his life to working with youth. It wasn’t until he stumbled upon teaching, after being approached by other Black, male educators that he found education was where he could make the biggest impact. He currently teaches in the neighborhood where he grew up and finds his connection to the students and community allows for a more profound impact. (Watch the interview on his blog here!)


Through his work with The Fellowship and in schools, his interactions with students and fellow teachers have informed his perspective and the following observations:

  • Many White, female educators were approached in their youth and told they would make excellent teachers - most often by other White educators
  • Several of the young Black men they approached about going into education reported that they were never told they would make a good teacher and never saw themselves as educators
  • Overall, students reported that doing well in school would allow them to “get out” of their neighborhoods and situations – meaning they did not want to live/work where they grew up
  • Many, if not all, young Black men and Black male educators they work with said that they had not considered a career in education due to their experiences in school, meaning they did not want to continue working in an environment of hate, discrimination, violence, etc.

Impactful.


A few states and districts have started to put goals in place for creating diverse teaching workforce, but what can current educators do to improve these measures? Inspire and support students of color who show interest in being a teacher. Inspire students of color who have characteristics and qualities that would make an excellent teacher. Plant the seed of teaching as a career and nourish it.


While this effort will not remove all the barriers to a diverse educator workforce, this small, but purposeful measure planted early enough, can have a resonating positive effect on the future of teaching. Be mindful that representation does matter – especially in the classroom.

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