More Evidence Points Towards the Importance of Teachers of Color

Written by: Amy Auletto

Primary Source:  Green & Write, November 21, 2016

A recent study published in the academic journal Educational Researcher has found that all students, regardless of their own background, tend to prefer Latino and black teachers to white teachers. New York University researchers Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng and Peter F. Halpin analyzed survey responses from over 50,000 students in grades 6-9 to determine the relationship between teacher race and student perceptions of their teachers. Students rated their teachers across seven dimensions, commonly referred to as the 7 C’s: caring about students, controlling the classroom, clarifying lessons, challenging students, captivating students, conferring with students, and consolidating concepts. Overall, minority teachers scored higher across these dimensions, and the authors also found evidence that black students have especially favorable perceptions of black teachers. Cherng and Halpin speculate that teachers of color may have more multicultural awareness than their white colleagues, thus allowing them to build a stronger rapport with students of all backgrounds.

Minority Students are the Majority, Yet Most Teachers are White

While minority students are now the majority in the U.S., most teachers are white. Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education

While minority students are now the majority in the U.S., most teachers are white.
Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education

In 2014, the U.S. hit a critical milestone when students of color became the majority in the classroom. The portion of non-white students continues to rise and is projected to be nearly 55% by 2023. This increase in diversity, however, has not held true for teachers. More than 4 in 5 teachers are white and this does not appear to be changing any time soon. While the portion of Latino and Asian teachers has increased over the last 25 years, black teachers now make up a smaller share of the teaching workforce than they did in 1987, dropping from 8.2% to 6.8% in 2011.

A number of explanations have been offered for low minority representation in teaching. One contributing factor is simply the fact that our current teachers are from an older, whiter generation than today’s students. This, however, doesn’t fully account for the lacking minority representation in teaching. A recent report by The Education Trust examined the experiences of educators of color and found that while black teachers report success in connecting with students, they often feel they are devalued and expected to act as enforcers rather than educators. It has also been suggested that fewer minorities pursue teaching because they were mostly taught by white educators themselves, so they don’t identify with the teaching profession. For those who do pursue teaching, there are financial barriers. Students of color more likely to take on debt to attend college; and teaching, relative to other careers requiring a college degree, does not result in high earnings. There is also speculation that teaching exams are biased, thus creating another barrier to entering the profession. Furthermore, minorities who do become teachers quit the profession at higher rates than their white colleagues.

Teacher Diversity is a Civil Right for Students

Given Cherng and Halpin’s recent findings that minority teachers benefit all students, it follows that we ought to be doing more to diversify the teaching workforce. A recent report released by the Albert Shanker Institute even goes so far as to call teacher diversity a civil right for students. This report argues that exposing students to a diverse range of teachers reduces stereotypes and prepares students for an increasingly global society. While there has been a slow and steady increase in the number of minority teachers, we are still nowhere near a teaching workforce that mirrors the students it serves. It is absolutely critical that we find new ways to recruit – and retain – teachers of color. Minorities with a passion for teaching ought to able to pursue the profession without facing undue barriers resulting from their own identities. We must also take steps now to encourage current K-12 students to consider teaching as a future career.

There is work to be done across a number of settings. Teacher education programs must address the barriers that disproportionately impede minorities. We need to find more affordable routes into the teaching profession. The average new teacher pays $429 a month in student loans yet makes just over $3,000 per month. School administrators also need to take a careful look at their school climates and take steps to ensure that teachers of color are not alienated or stereotyped into particular roles. Taking multiple approaches to diversify the teaching workforce will directly benefit all students.

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Amy Auletto
Amy Auletto is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in the impact that equitable funding and access to effective teachers have on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged student populations. Prior to beginning her studies at Michigan State University, she taught middle school math in Detroit. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of Social Work, and MA in educational studies from the University of Michigan.