Our nation’s education system is at an inflection point. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended traditional teaching structures, exposing and exacerbating pervasive inequities in our schools. Teachers are leaving the workforce in droves. And, let’s face it, the pressures on teachers during the pandemic has dissuaded potential new teachers from entering the profession.
This is not to impart doom. On the contrary, we have a prime opportunity for a reset in our education system — one that will uplift all students and create a stronger workforce for decades to come.
To be successful, it is imperative that we recruit and retain more teachers of color.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of teachers. Students spend nearly a third of their day in school, sometimes interacting more with teachers than their parents. Teachers help mold and cultivate the minds of their students during critical phases of development. I am willing to bet that all of us can name a favorite teacher within seconds even though it’s been years since we’ve been in school. I know I can.
My 11th-grade pre-calculus teacher, Mr. Lane, saw something in me that I did not fully appreciate at that time. I recall him pulling me aside and talking to me about applying to Boys State, a program dedicated to building future civic leaders. I realized quickly the application was due within a week, so Mr. Lane sat with me several afternoons and took time to craft a thoughtful recommendation for me. He believed in me, which fueled me to work harder and never settle. So often we think about the impact teachers have on our academic development, but Mr. Lane impacted my social, emotional and certainly professional development as I carried his approach into my classroom when I started my teaching career.
Historically, people of color have been underrepresented in these crucial positions. That’s due to a host of issues. Before educators of color can even get to the classroom, they face innumerable challenges, including insufficient access to postsecondary programs, unduly restrictive certification requirements and inadequate pay. Once they enter, staying in is tough. Many educators of color experience unique discrimination, psychological stress and a lack of support often called the “invisible tax.”
As a result, just 1 in 5 teachers is a person of color. Forty percent of schools don’t have a single teacher of color even though students of color make up a majority of our K-12 population
There’s no question: This diversity dearth is harmful for students of all races. Research shows that teachers of color produce positive academic, social-emotional and behavioral student outcomes. That’s largely because these educators tend to build strong relationships with students and their families and tailor instruction to the needs of individual students.
Teachers of color are particularly impactful for groups that have long been left behind in the classroom. For example, there’s evidence that Black students perform better on achievement tests when they have a Black teacher. Latinx students also have fewer unexcused absences when they have a Latinx teacher.
Those academic benefits ripple across our nation. Students can emerge from school more prepared than ever to succeed in the workforce, spur innovation and propel our economy forward.
We need a teacher workforce that reflects the diversity of our nation. That’s why the Hunt Institute, the organization I lead, is working with a dynamic steering committee of leading educator organizations to add 1 million new teachers of color and 30 thousand school leaders of color to the workforce by 2030. We aim to break down the barriers that prevent teachers of color from entering and staying in the classroom. That means revamping educator preparation programs, proactively recruiting more people of color for education careers, improving mentorship opportunities, and much more.
We have the potential to transform our education system in unprecedented ways — and consequently, strengthen our entire nation. Join us.
Javaid Siddiqi, Ph.D., is president & CEO of The Hunt Institute.