Equity & Diversity

Minority Teachers a Minority Group

By Stacy Davis, Connecticut Post, Bridgetport (MCT) — July 10, 2012 4 min read
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Fifth-graders Olivia Kennedy and Kairan Kaur said they don’t have many teachers that look like them at their school in Trumbull.

Olivia, 11, is black. Kairan, 10, is South Asian.

Although they are both happy at Frenchtown Elementary School, they said they wished they had more teachers of different races.

“They should be equal,” Olivia said.

Olivia and Kairan are taught by Rebecca Caravetta, who is one of just two minority teachers at their school. Caravetta is Colombian; Sangeeta Gidwani is Indian.

“I was surprised to see that we were the only two in the building,” said Caravetta.

In Trumbull, there were 5,804 students enrolled in the school district in 2009-10 of which 1,170, or 16.8 percent, were minorities. The minority teacher population was just 3.1 percent, according to the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Strategic School Profile.

Trumbull is among many districts throughout the state that have a very small percentage of minority teachers, less than the amount of their minority students.

“There’s definitely a shortage nationwide,” said Stafford Thomas, the principal of Hillcrest Middle School, who is black.

In Bridgeport, minority teachers comprise just 26.4 percent of the staff, though minorities comprise 91.4 percent of the student population.

The lack of diversity in teaching staffs at schools across the state has been a concern for the state’s chapters of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Carolyn Vermont, the president of the Bridgeport chapter.

“A lot more needs to be done,” she said. “I would like to see more black and brown teachers in the Bridgeport school system,” she said.

Impact on Students

Experts say lack of diversity in classroom teachers can affect students in a variety of ways. Students miss out on a variety of perspectives, minority students lack role models, and school districts miss out on a high quality of instructors.

If districts don’t do a better job of hiring teachers of diverse backgrounds, Carlos McCray, a Fordham University professor of educational leadership, said staff members could fall into group think about students of color instead of addressing individual needs.

Some minority students may relate better to teachers who are also minorities, experts said.

Tanesha Barnes, a history and social studies educator at a private school in Danbury, said as a black teacher, she feels she has more influence over black and Hispanic students than a white teacher would.

“How does a young white teacher relate to young black boys? Does she feel threatened?” she said.

Minority parents also seem feel more comfortable with her than with their children’s white teachers, she said.

Singled Out

Some teachers of color have said white teachers and administrators have made them feel uncomfortable in their schools at times.

Barnes said she was labeled as un-American for including anti-bias lessons in her history class.

Another Indian teacher said she was asked lots of questions about her heritage shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack—questions she had never been asked before.

Better Recruitment Needed

Many school officials weren’t able to pinpoint the exact reasons there weren’t more minority teachers in their districts.

Fay Ruotolo, Stamford’s interim director of human resources, said the certification process may be more arduous and the cost of living higher in Connecticut, which can discourage some candidates from applying for teaching positions in the state.

Ruotolo said the district has been participating in minority job fairs and convening hiring committees that focus on attracting more diverse candidates. She said the district has been seeing more candidates from diverse backgrounds over the last few years.

“That gives us hope that we may increase our numbers,” she said.

Mark King, who heads a Fairfield County teacher employment agency, said he has not seen many applications from minorities.

Some colleges and universities have seen a decrease in the number of minority students in teacher certification programs.

At Fairfield University, the minority student population decreased by 1.5 percent from 2007 to 2010. At Connecticut College, one third of the students in the teacher certification program were students of color in 2007, but in 2011, there were none.

Districts Reach Out

Vallas, the Bridgeport superintendent, said he has already been thinking about how to get a more diverse teaching population in Bridgeport schools.

He wants to recruit teachers from black colleges and universities across the country and large urban universities, such as the City University of New York, he said.

“You have to expand your pool,” he said.

Bridgeport Interim Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas has also started working with the colleges and universities locally to get graduate students, who might not necessarily want to teach, to perform other jobs in the school district.

When there is a teacher vacancy in Stamford Public Schools, the district announces the job in national publications and websites with minority readers, said Ruotolo.

But Vermont, of the Bridgeport NAACP, said schools need to do more.

School districts need to do a better job notifying communities of color about job openings, she said.

In addition to placing advertisements in popular magazines and newspapers that blacks and Hispanics read, she said they should spread the word to community centers and churches.

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said.

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