Opinion
Recruitment & Retention Opinion

The Suburbs Need Diverse Teachers, Too

A superintendent for human resources discusses the ‘crisis of representation’
By Kurt Laakso — June 26, 2018 3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

Among school personnel administrators, hiring candidates who reflect the diversity of student populations is often a top priority. While often a challenge in any district, this goal can be particularly difficult for human resource directors from suburban districts with few teachers of color already on staff. In essence, such districts lack the critical mass of minority staff to attract new candidates of color to consider working there. If, as is often argued, diversity attracts diversity, how does a district recruit a diverse slate of candidates when its current percentage of teachers of color is woefully low?

This phenomenon is more than a teacher-recruitment challenge; it is a crisis with social-emotional implications. The message we send students when our faculties do not represent our diverse populations is tantamount to institutional racism. Research shows when students of color look at the educators in their school and find only one or two faces that resemble theirs, they internalize the assumption that immutable characteristics of race are, in fact, a barrier to professional success. Once such an assumption takes hold, whatever encouragement students of color may hear from well-meaning educators begins to ring hollow.

Among HR directors, I have often heard my professional peers from suburban districts lament the difficulty of reaching candidates of color. The communities that suburban districts serve are rapidly growing more diverse, but their perception as “mostly white” hasn’t caught up with their shifting student demographics.

This crisis of representation has been a topic of ongoing conversation within the consortium of HR directors in the Chicago area to which I belong. The consortium includes 25 suburban school districts—but only two members are individuals of color. During one discussion on the glaring need to diversify the ranks of professional educators, we began to consider one overlooked avenue to diversify our teaching ranks: Have we been marketing the wrong message in advertising opportunities to teach in the suburbs?

To attract candidates, suburban recruiters often boast bigger salaries and better benefits packages, promising a collaborative culture in a positive working environment, but few have trumpeted the cause of education from a suburban perspective. In a profession driven by altruistic intentions, why have we not recognized the idealism of candidates by highlighting the social-justice implications of a career in suburban schools, rather than just focusing on salaries and benefits?

Empathy begins with an appreciation of others’ humanity and a genuine concern about others’ realities."

In suburban school districts, there is a shortage of individuals of color on staff to provide a counterbalance to a white-dominated outlook on current events. This is not to say that districts that are disproportionately white are necessarily discriminatory, but this lack of diversity severely undermines the common mission of public education.

The diversification of suburban school faculties is perhaps more crucial now than ever before. In our rancorous political climate, our students—along with many adult Americans—are reeling with questions about what life will look like in the United States over the next few years. Central to that question are issues of race relations, immigration, and ethnic identity. Cultural empathy, which has been increasingly absent from much of our national discourse over the past several years, is needed now on a national scale.

Diversifying a district’s professional ranks could elevate everyone’s understanding of the cultural, social, and economic experiences of people across the socioeconomic spectrum. Indeed, empathy begins with an appreciation of others’ humanity and a genuine concern about others’ realities.

Imagine a suburban school district with not only a diverse student body, but also a diverse faculty where no one person from any one ethnicity or race would have to stand alone. Consider the impact that such a robust coalition of professionals would have on students’ (and parents’) ability to imagine, aspire, and make a difference. Such a diversified teacher workforce would advance public education’s mission to strengthen democracy and make our nation even greater than it already is—with all perspectives represented along the way. If this purpose rings true with candidates of color, they should consider taking up the cause as an educator in a suburban school, where social-justice champions are desired as much as they are needed.

Follow the Education Week Commentary section on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up to get the latest Education Week Commentaries in your email inbox.

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Safe Return to Schools is Possible with Testing
We are edging closer to a nationwide return to in-person learning in the fall. However, vaccinations alone will not get us through this. Young children not being able to vaccinate, the spread of new and
Content provided by BD
Equity & Diversity Live Online Discussion What Is Critical Race Theory and Why You Shouldn't Shy Away From It
In this episode of A Seat at the Table, Peter DeWitt sits down with lawyer-educator Janel George and EdWeek reporters, Stephen Sawchuk and Andrew Ujifusa, as they discuss what’s at the heart of the critical

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Recruitment & Retention How 'Grow-Your-Own' Programs Are Helping Recruit Teachers of Color
Learn which strategies are working to recruit and support future teachers of color.
6 min read
Diverse team builds a geometric shapes structure together
Rudzhan Nagiev/iStock /Getty Images Plus
Recruitment & Retention Understaffed School District IT Departments Are a Big Problem. Here's One Way to Solve It
An Oregon district needed bilingual support staff to help Spanish-speaking families manage virtual learning. It didn't need to look far.
4 min read
A worker passes public school buses parked at a depot in Manchester, N.H., Monday, April 27, 2020. New Hampshire public school children continue to be taught with remote learning, while buildings are closed to students through the end of the academic year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In school districts across the country, buses sat idle through much of the past year. Some districts turned to bus drivers or other support staff to fill IT jobs.
Charles Krupa/AP
Recruitment & Retention Pay Raises and Pandemic Bonuses: Can They Keep Teachers in Classrooms?
Some states are proposing salary hikes and offering teachers one-time bonuses. Will the money have an effect on post-pandemic retention?
8 min read
Woman paying bills.
Getty
Recruitment & Retention Mentors Matter for New Teachers. Advice on What Works and Doesn't
Mentorships can go a long way in keeping new teachers in the field. But not all mentor-mentee relationships are created equal.
6 min read
Misti Kemmer, a 4th grade teacher at Russell Elementary School in Los Angeles, had a negative experience being mentored as a new teacher, but is now a mentor herself.
Misti Kemmer, a 4th grade teacher at Russell Elementary School in Los Angeles, had a negative experience being mentored as a new teacher, but is now a mentor herself.
Morgan Lieberman for Education Week