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Teacher diversity benefits all students

No one will debate the existence of a national achievement gap between white students and almost every other subgroup in America’s K-12 schools. But while we surely acknowledge the divide, it does not reflect the hundreds of thousands of exceptional students of color who go on to achieve great things. There are countless examples of people of color who have found success: among Silicon Valley’s finest innovators, as best-selling authors, as finance executives. But research has shown that our brightest black and brown students are seldom encouraged to become teachers and often have no desire to join the profession. Work hard, get good grades, graduate at the top of your class — to become a teacher?

A wealth of data reveals a lack of diversity in the teaching profession. Indeed, while people of color account for 36 percent of the American workforce, they make up only 17 percent of teachers. The majority of the workforce will be comprised by people of color by 2030, and students of color already outnumber their white peers. This lack of diversity in the teaching profession is troubling given the research showing the benefit of teachers of color on all students.

The consequences of a growing teacher-student diversity gap portend lower rates of academic success of students who do not look like the majority white, female teacher workforce. As a result, non-white students who perform at or beyond the level of their white peers too often seek out other professions where they can see themselves as successful, and where they will have a salary commensurate with their work, opportunities for professional growth and the respect of their communities, families and even former teachers.

Raising the standards for entering the teaching profession — making it a more desirable profession among high-achievers while simultaneously aiming to increase diversity — will yield the kind of teachers we need standing before students each day. And, as a recent report from the Center for American Progress notes, while some teacher preparation programs have moved the needle in increasing both selectivity and diversity in the teaching profession, more must be done to bring the teacher workforce in line with the student population.

From the halls of Congress to the halls of school buildings, education stakeholders have not done enough to market the teaching profession to high-achieving people of color, especially students. Too often, high-achieving people of color are not pursued by school districts to serve as teachers because they are deemed rare, off limits or even too talented. Even those who want to enter the field of education after studying their initial passion must jump through so many hoops — like additional coursework and expensive exams — just to become “certified,” they often feel that it is not worth it. There’s likely to be a significant decrease in pay with such a career change in addition to the 30 credits of required courses that result in more debt, but not a degree.

To be sure, every astute student of color is not meant to be a teacher. But there are more students of color today than ever before. If we do not make a concerted effort to make education an attractive career option for students, we will continue to see the gap between students and teachers of color grow, as it has done for the past six years — a trend that is detrimental to students and, thus, the American workforce.

To diversify the teaching profession while also increasing selectivity, state and district officials must do more to provide pathways for people of color into the teacher workforce, pay them like similarly educated professionals, support them through mentoring and induction, and offer them career growth opportunities. Teachers must also do their part to encourage their students to teach.

Maryland is no different than the majority of the country. With a 36 percent gap between students of color and teachers of color, we have a problem. Despite these statistics, I have had the opportunity to work with amazing teachers who excel in everything they do. Whether they chose education as a first, second, or third career, their goal, along with my own, is to make life better for someone else by ensuring that they receive the education they deserve.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility to provide the kind of education that creates opportunities for students, and students of color especially, to choose the college and career of their choice — and we should do everything in our power to ensure that teaching is at the top of their list.

Kia McDaniel (kia@kiamcdaniel.com) is an ESOL Instructional Supervisor in Maryland.

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