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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7 responses to “Why Teachers of Color are Important…it may surprise you!”

  1. Sharnice Floyd Eaton says :

    Hmm… it is a bit discouraging to realize the numbers of ‘minority’ teachers has decreased. Still, thank you for affirming the basic truth and also backing that up with percentages.

  2. Jameka Simmons Thomas says :

    Chris, this helps me to keep on doing what I’m doing. Thanks!

  3. Caroline says :

    Thanks for reminding me of this important effort and the statistics definitely help in making the argument to others who may disagree on the importance of diversity in the workforce and classroom!

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