The faculty of public schools are still primarily white and female. We know this intuitively but it is also the data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Our students are much more diverse than the workforce. The demographics of America’s younger population is changing faster than its aging ones. According to Kids Data, the population of white K-12 students is now less than 50% nationally. The good news is that diversity among public school teachers has also increased...but, not in impressive ways. From 1987-1988 to 2011-2012, the percentage of white faculty dropped from 87% to 82%. During the same time period, the population of black public school teachers fell from 8% to 7% and the population of Hispanic public school teachers grew from 3% to 8% (The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce).
No words can express the need for models for minority children better than those of SCOTUS Justice Sonia Sotomayor:
When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become---whether lawyer, scientist, artist, or leader in any realm - her goal remains abstract. Such models appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than an inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, “Yes, someone like me can do this.” (Sotomayor pp. 226-227).
Why should this issue matter? And does it matter to both schools with high diversity and low diversity? It matters a lot. The 13 year learning experience we offer children affects all aspects of their lives. It is an experience that can help form their thinking and actions long after they graduate. It is true that greater influences may be circumstance, socio-economic level, and family situation but we, too, must acknowledge and claim the enormous impact we have as well.
Aside from the lessons that are the vehicles for curriculum, extracurricular activities, and interscholastic and intramural sports, there are observations and daily interactions with adults that make a difference in their lives. Students watch and learn from how educators treat each other, their students and parents. From these observations, they learn what and who matters. Whether knowingly or not, we are teaching important life lessons. How we approach success and offer support for growth, how we encourage with high expectations, how we do the business of teaching and leading all make a difference in what the students are learning...for life. Among those intangible and immeasurable characteristics that are being observed and internalized is the race of those in charge. Who are the teachers? What does that teach children?
A non-verbal ‘fixed mindset’ develops as minority children look around and do not see adults who look like them. The absence of role models imposes unconscious limitations on the career options children imagine. Systemically, this builds in a cycle that potentially continues to deplete the recruitment of larger numbers of minorities into the teaching workforce. Beyond that, all children live with that limited view and miss the opportunity to develop the understanding and skill of working in environments with diverse populations.
As we scan the news, we wonder how we came to this explosive moment within our nation. We can, and often do, focus myopically on only our own classroom or school or system or region. Yet, it is no longer possible for us to solve these problems at the local levels. We need future generations who can work together and be creative and competent problem solvers. We need an electorate who can see differences and find value in listening to the perspectives held by others rather than rejecting the perspectives and the people who hold them. Educators are not responsible for where we are but we can be responsible for improving things in the future. Having a more diverse faculty and more diversity in school leadership can be part of that contribution.
Sotomayor, S. (2013). My Beloved World. New York: Vintage Books
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