Hiring Black teachers only solves part of the problem

Recently, I read an NPR article, “If Your Teacher Looks Like You, You May Do Better In School,” and was left feeling a little unsettled.

The article referenced a deeper study conducted by Anna J. Egalite and Brian Kisida, from North Carolina State University and the University of Missouri, respectfully. Their findings demonstrate “that students who share gender and/or racial characteristics with their teachers have more positive perceptions of their teachers in terms of feeling cared for, feeling that their schoolwork is interesting, and more positive reports of instructional characteristics related to student-teacher communication and guidance compared with unmatched students in the same classroom. They also report putting forth more personal effort and have higher college aspirations” (Egalite & Kisida, 2017).

If I am completely honest, I am afraid that their research will be interpreted in such a way that the country will continue to see the re-segregation of schools. In my limited experience, integrated schools often function in a “school within a school model.” The teachers of color are assigned to teach the students of color. You know what you have when all of the teachers of color teach all of the students of color in an integrated school? Segregation.

You know what you have when all of the teachers of color teach all of the students of color in an integrated school? Segregation. 

As a result, it is not impossible to imagine district and school-based administrators will see a study like this and act in ways that basically translate into hiring teachers of color and saying, “You get ‘those’ kids. You can teach all of them.”   

In response to a study in which Black students say they feel less cared for by a teacher of a different gender or race, why is giving them a Black teacher (of which there is already a shortage) the first solution? I’ll try to answer this for you. It’s much easier then doing the hard, internal work to address our beliefs about students of color.

Let’s be honest, the racial beliefs, stereotypes, and biases held by educators have consequences for students. We cannot continue to gloss over that fact, so in agreeance with Gloria Ladson-Billings who was quoted in the NPR article, “We need teachers who view their students of color as whole people.”

I am a Black mother of a Black son and Black daughter. My children have not had teachers who share their gender or racial characteristics, and honestly may never. They deserve to have a positive educational experience even if they never have the opportunity to learn from a teacher who looks like them.

Professional learning for all teachers, but especially white teachers, to address racial stereotypes and biases should be a major focus of district and school administrators. A one-time course in culturally relevant pedagogy is not enough—and I hate to break it to you, but there are no special tips and tricks to teaching students of color.

A few years ago, I facilitated a professional development session about race in education. During the middle of the session, a participant said, “I thought you were going to show me how to teach Black kids.” I explained that the session was designed for participants to hold up a mirror to their own beliefs about students of color and achievement. I don’t think she wanted to do that.

As a teacher, I primarily taught white students, and not once have I ever attended a professional development about how to teach white students. Are those even offered? I still have relationships with many of my students long after they have graduated from my class. I could be wrong, but I think we are still connected because I cared for them and had high expectations of them. I didn’t go to my administrator and say, “I just can’t connect with them,” and expect to not have to.

We, as a profession, have to stop trying to avoid doing the work of dealing with implicit bias and racism within our midst. When a student says “I don’t think my teacher cares for me,” it’s up to the teacher (the adult in the room) to figure out what vibes she may be giving off. Often times it is unintentional, but can be found in the eyes, body language, and tone given by the teacher. That means it is up to each individual teacher to do the work to repair the relationship.

How are we making a better world if we stick with what is comfortable or familiar?

How are you going to get better as a human being, let alone an educator, if you are not willing to address your own beliefs and biases? How are we making a better world if we stick with what is comfortable or familiar?

One of the takeaways from the article could be the desperate need to hire more teachers of color. I couldn’t agree more. However, if we are hiring more teachers just so white teachers don’t have to deal with students of color, then we are doing it all wrong.  


Val’s post is part of CTQ’s blogging roundtable on equity and social justice in education. Join the discussion by commenting on this blog and checking out the other blogs in this series. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted and use #CTQCollab to chime in on social media.