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Opinion: Teacher Diversity is More Important Now Than Ever

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‘Teachers, education policy experts, and advocates are urging Congress to include $250 billion in additional stimulus funds for education, including a minimum of $15 million to teacher preparation programs at ‘minority serving institutions.’

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Dobrislava

When students return to classrooms across the U.S., millions will not have a single teacher of color in the building.

Saving lives, budget holes, and a reckoning with racism.

With all the challenges schools are struggling with, teacher diversity may seem like it belongs on the backburner. But as we reshape schools after the largest educational challenge of our generation, it is crucial to consider how any transformations affect teachers of all backgrounds—especially teachers of color.

We’ve known two things for decades: First, students of all backgrounds, but particularly students of color, benefit from having diverse teachers during their time in school. And second, even if schools are making an effort to diversify their teaching staffs, we still have a long way to go.

When I entered the classroom more than 10 years ago, I hoped that I would be just one of a wave of teachers of color who would ensure that every student, at some point in their academic careers, had teachers that looked like them. In the time I’ve been teaching, students of color have come to make up the majority of public school students, but we’ve barely moved the needle with regard to teacher diversity, increasing the percentage of teachers of color from 17 to 20 percent over the span of 12 years.

With stats like these, it’s easy to feel discouraged. That is, until you learn another statistic. Minority serving institutions (MSIs), or colleges and universities that predominantly serve people of color, offer only 13 percent of our nation’s educator preparation programs, but produce nearly half of our educators of color.

The single best way we can diversify teaching is to support programs already doing this successfully. That’s why teachers, education policy experts, and advocates are urging Congress to include $250 billion in additional stimulus funds for education, including a minimum of $15 million to teacher preparation programs at MSIs. These dollars would bolster their educator prep programs by addressing each segment of the diverse teacher pipeline, from need-based scholarships that make the dream of being a teacher more accessible, to better quality clinical experience and retention initiatives that help keep talented teachers in our schools and classrooms.

As a graduate of an MSI, I am not surprised that these schools make such progress. From the moment you arrive on campus, you are building an understanding of where you fit into history, of what is possible because of your ancestors, and your responsibility to continue to uplift and encourage the next generation. When you develop pride in who you are and where you come from, you start to see what’s possible. It’s part of how I came to see teaching as the path for me.

Every student should have that experience, but they shouldn’t have to wait until college. Students in my school in Queens, most of whom are African American, Latino, or of East and West Indian descent, are lucky that we do have a few teachers of color. Forty percent of U.S. public schools do not have a single teacher of color on staff.

While seeing someone in a position of leadership in your school who looks like you may seem like a small thing, it is not. I teach middle school, a time in students’ lives that can be difficult as they seek to connect with others to better understand where they fit, who they are, and who they want to be.

Just this year, a student—I’ll call her “Ana”—was having difficulty in English class, and, like so many students who are frustrated academically, began acting out. Our assistant principal discovered that, as someone who speaks Spanish exclusively outside of class, she was having trouble reading in English. Sensing she needed to connect with someone who could better understand what she was going through, she suggested a Spanish-speaking teacher at our school chat with her. When she did, she said that Ana’s demeanor completely changed. As Ana put it, “I didn’t know we could speak Spanish in school unless we were ESL kids!”

Ana’s reaction inspired that teacher in my school to start a club for Latina girls, allowing them the space to celebrate and take pride in their culture and read materials that spark the girls’ interest. Today, Ana is back on track and thriving. But how many more Anas are out there? And how many have teachers who look like them or speak their language?

Stories like these energize me. We have a long way to go before teachers reflect the diversity in our classrooms, but we know what works. Join me in urging your Member of Congress to provide relief to our MSIs.

Leona Fowler is an instructional support teacher in Queens and a member of E4E-New York. She is a proud graduate of Clark Atlanta University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

This content was originally published here.

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