If you’re a public school teacher in this country, chances are good that you’re also a white woman. Seventy-six percent of elementary and secondary teachers are women and 82 percent of them are white, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
At the preschool level, the picture is slightly different. Preschool teachers are less likely to be white and more likely to be women, as several recent reports on early-education teachers have highlighted.
One third to one half of early educators are people of color, according to Marcy Whitebook, the director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at U.C. Berkeley. That’s a good thing, she argues in her recent paper, Building a Skilled (Early Education) Teacher Workforce.
“Minority teachers typically hold higher expectations for minority children, and are less likely to misdiagnose them as special education students,” Whitebook writes. “Minority teachers often are more attuned to the challenges related to poverty, racism, and immigration status that many children of color face in their communities.”
In Los Angeles, 86 percent of preschool teachers are “diverse,” reflecting the diversity of their students, reports Southern California Public Radio’s Deepa Fernandes.
“On leaving home, often for the first time, the youngest children may be more sensitive to the ethnicities of their instructors,” Fernandes said. “For some educators, however, even more important than race is teacher quality and cultural sensitivity in seeding a child’s academic success.”
Caring and dedicated male teachers could also help young children launch their academic careers, say some of the (very few) men in the profession. Fewer than 2 percent of preschool teachers are men, according to 2012 labor statistics cited in a recent NPR story on New York City’s few male preschool teachers.
“Experts hope New York City’s unprecedented pre-K expansion will lead more men to consider teaching small children, in spite of the field’s generally low pay and its image as a traditionally female pursuit,” NPR’s Matt Collette said.
Certainly the higher pay offered by the burgeoning number of preschool programs offered at public schools across the country could pull in more men. A measurable shift could take a while though, given that graduates with a B.A. in early-childhood development are currently the lowest-paid of all college majors.
And since the higher pay is coming with higher educational requirements, “maintaining the current culturally and linguistically diverse workforce” will be a “challenge,” Whitebook warns.
So though you’re still most likely to find a white woman leading the average preschool classroom—and we’re not so bad—be prepared to find an increasingly diverse field of teachers as the profession expands in coming years.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.