Archive | June 2012

Why Teachers of Color are Important…it may surprise you!

As the school year ended, I was reminded of how important it is for our students to have teachers who look like them.  One Dominican female student wrote to her teacher, “Thanks for being my first Dominican teacher.  I’ll always remember and appreciate you.”

The need for teachers of color is still important.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics in 1988, these were the statistics:

White teachers: 89.7%

Teachers of color: 10.3%

In fact, the report stated the percentage of teachers of color had decreased from 12.2% in 1977 to 10.3% in 1988.

Here’s another look at the statistics by percentage of the student population and % of teaching force:

Racial group % of children in public school % of public school teaching force
White 71.2% 89.7%
Black 16.2% 6.9%
Hispanic 9.1% 1.9%
Asian/Pacific Islander 2.5% 0.9%
American Indian 0.9% 0.6%

Maybe you’re saying, “Well, that was in 1988!”

Still comparing the proportion of students of color to the proportion of teachers of color in 2011, there has been progress, but not enough.   According to the Center for American Progress, “At the national level, students of color make up more than 40 percent of the public school population. In contrast, teachers of color are only 17 percent of the teaching force.

Here’s what the statistics looked like in 2009 according to the National Center for Education Statistics:

Racial group % of children in public school % of public school teaching force
White 57.8% 83.1%
Black 16.0% 7.0%
Hispanic 20.4% 7.1%
Asian/Pacific Islander 4.4% 1.4%
American Indian 1.4% 0.5%
Multiracial 0.9%

In fact, the report states, “The scarcity of minority teachers is not limited to any one type of school—in over 40 percent of public schools there is not a single teacher of color. And in urban and high-poverty schools where minority teachers are disproportionately employed, teaching staffs are still predominately composed of white teachers.”

However, teachers of color are not just important because we’re able to be role models for our students. In a recent research review, “Diversifying the Teaching Force: An Examination of Major Arguments,” Ana Maria Villegas, Professor of Curriculum and Teaching in the College of Education and Human Services at Montclair State University and Jacqueline Jordan Irvine, who is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Urban Education at Emory University, outline four main reasons for having more teachers of color in our schools.

1) Teachers of color serve as role models for all students and counter negative stereotypes that are often portrayed in the media and elsewhere in our society;

2) Teachers of color diversify the workplace, providing all teachers with more inter- cultural experiences, strengthening human resources;

3) Teachers of color act as role models for students of color to consider teaching as a career path.

However, Villegas’s and Irvine’s fourth reason may be the most compelling and surprising:

4) Teachers of color have a more profound, positive impact on the achievement and retention of students of color due to culturally-based practices, higher expectations, and roles as cultural mediators and advocates.

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Voices of Asian American Youth

Listen to Asian American youth from my hometown Boston talk about their experiences of what it’s like to grow up Asian American.

Teens actually doing something about racism

Check out this video of teens in Minnesota doing something about racism by forming a touring theater troupe educating young people about racism.

Sticks and stones…but words…actually do hurt and are destructive.

In order for a young person to learn in school, they need to feel physically and emotionally safe.  How can you focus on what you’re learning if you’re being taunted with racial epithets?  Teens of color, in particular, deal with racial and ethnic stereotypes that affect their school performance.

Several recent studies by Anthony A. Peguero that use longitudinal data show that race and ethnicity play a large role in school based victimization.

Race, Ethnicity and School-Based Victimization

Another study from Peguero shows that Black/African American and Latino students who are victimized at school are more likely to drop out.

Violence, Schools and Dropping Out

Which racial or ethnic group is most vulnerable to being targeted?  According to Peguero, Asian Americans and Asian American girls.

The “Model Minority” Victim: Immigration, Gender, and Asian American Vulnerabilities to Violence at School

Peguero’s research also shows that youth from immigrant backgrounds are also repeatedly targeted.

Victimizing the Children of Immigrants

So that old refrain, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?  Umm…not true.

The Impact of Racism on Health

Check out this video from the Boston Public Health Commission that brought together 8 white teens and 8 teens of color to talk about the impact of racism on health!

Promoting Friendships Within and Across Racial/Ethnic Lines Among Teens

In my job as a middle school teacher, it brings me great joy to see my students forming friendships within their own racial/ethnic group (i.e. feeling comfortable in school speaking their home language) and also forming friendships across racial/ethnic lines that sometimes may seem surprising.

At a stage when adolescents are developing their racial and ethnic identities, it’s important for teens to develop friendships within their own racial or ethnic group and also across racial and ethnic lines.  They need to feel affirmed for who they are and where they come when the pressure is most severe to fit in, but also have the opportunity to find ways to see how they share similarities with those whose skin color is different from them.  Sometimes their experiences are universal while other times they may share similar experiences if they come from a community of color.

Dr. James Moody in an NIH study in 2002 found that in moderately mixed schools, teens gravitated towards friendships within their own racial or ethnic group.  However, in the schools that were the most diverse, they had more diverse friendships.

Dr. Moody’s NIH Study

Racial/Ethnic Identity Development Critical in Teen Years

Teenagers of color need to be affirmed for their racial/ethnic/linguistic identity.  Hearing a teen of color say that she makes every effort to hide her accent so it doesn’t come out makes me sad and shows me we still have a long way to go in our society.  We need to be pro-active in affirming that their racial/ethnic/linguistic identities are positive and make them visible in literature, so that teens can feel like they can be themselves.

Where’s the data to back this up?  Check out this study that shows that as feelings of ethnic pride go up, mental health also improves.

Northwestern University Study