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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. 

3 Comments

Rebecca Leech commented on October 19, 2017 at 7:40pm:

#equityined

Yes! Totally spot on. Unfortunately, I haven't experienced the "school within a school" model. Instead, I teach in a rural school of 2,000+ students with ~120 teachers and exactly 0 teachers of color, although ~20% of our students are non-caucasian. I believe that the results of this study are probably accurate, but where does that leave the students of color in my school if white teachers don't step up and make connections and question our bias? 

Tricia Ebner commented on October 20, 2017 at 7:04am:

At the heart of it all . . .

Val, I love how you always have me thinking of things in different ways. As I read your piece, this is what struck me: the foundation of education is relationships, and as teachers, our first priority needs to be building those relationships with each individual student in our classes. How many of us take the time to explore our own beliefs before each school year begins? I'm betting that in the rush to get our classrooms ready and have our first lessons prepared, very few of us stop to consider how our beliefs about students and their achievement will impact our relationships with them. As we begin to know our students, do we ever stop to consider how our own beliefs might hinder--or help--the relationship we are trying to build with each individual student? It's not as simple as just building relationships. We have to look at how we are doing that, with full awareness of our own beliefs and how they may create obstacles to those relationships.

 

Donald Nicolas commented on October 22, 2017 at 9:36pm:

A Few Things

Val,

What a great piece!  I think it’s a double-edged sword.  Minority recruitment efforts are imperative, however many have called for a “great teacher movement” as opposed to a “minority recruitment movement.”  It is said that great teachers, no matter what color, can make a significant impact on the life of a child.  With recent data, expounding upon the impact of black teachers it has our arena thinking twice about the need for a diverse staff, at any school.  White teachers at predominantly black schools are rarity because it does take an extra effort to understand the dynamic in these types of schools, positive and negative.  Are white teachers willing to bare their teeth and deal with the elements of these schools?  That’s why at times I struggle with the viability of programs like Teach for America because although it is a way for teachers of various cultures to work in “tough” school environments; it is often a “Peace Corps” proposition and these teachers are off to the private sector after a few years.    

There’s not workshops on how to teach white kids because proportionately in every single measurable statistic of student achievement, college acceptance, and graduation data; white children are demonstrably ahead of black children.  Prominent Black professors like Chris Emdin and Gloria Ladson-Billings and those proponents of culturally relevant pedagogy are pontificating that black children indeed do learn differently and that some sort of hip hop education is essential and can contribute to their success in school.  While I don’t disagree with the notion of culturally relevant pedagogy, if it is transfused as an education of tampering down expectations for black students (which I believe at times it is) than the premise is all wrong. 

I feel like we should continue to prioritize the need to increase the pool of minority educators, especially male, so districts can hire more diverse educators in all types of environments.  A more diverse teaching base can have a myriad of benefits in any school environment.

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