National initiatives to boost the number of teachers of color have advanced thanks to an increasingly multiethnic student population and research on the benefits of a diverse educator workforce. Now, there are new efforts to address recruitment and retention of Latino educators to serve the growing culturally and linguistically diverse Latino student population.
Between fall 2009 and fall 2020, Latino students were the only major racial or ethnic group whose public school enrollment increased, to about 28 percent of the K-12 student body, according to federal data. Yet Latino teachers represent just 9 percent of the teaching profession.
To better inform the the unique challenges and opportunities that come with hiring and retaining Latino educators, Latinos for Education has created a new advisory council looking at what’s happening locally and at the state level.
The nonprofit organization focuses on policy and advocacy for Latino families, educators and leaders. It’s part of the “One Million Teachers of Color” campaign coalition led by the education policy nonprofit Hunt Institute which has the goal of adding 1 million teachers and 30,000 leaders of color to the workforce by 2030.
“We want to make sure that Latino educators and the needs of Latino students are centered in these national dialogues,” said Feliza Ortiz-Licon, chief policy and advocacy officer at Latinos for Education.
The new six-member board has representatives from Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Tennessee. They are chief executives, executive directors, and leadership members of regional or statewide organizations.
“We want to know, at the end of the day upon implementation, what are the challenges?,” Ortiz-Licon said. “What are the opportunities? What have you done in Missouri? What have you done in Arizona? And how do we make sure that we consider that as we’re trying to implement this campaign?”
The new advisory council will address nuances in what it means to serve established Latino communities in states like California and Arizona—and newer, emergent communities in the South, including in Tennessee and Missouri. Within the Latino student population, there are various identities at play, including race, immigration status, whether students are first-generation students, and whether they are multilingual.
The geographic diversity is also key in terms of recognizing different political realities that exist across the country.
“For some people, it makes sense. We want to make sure that teachers are equipped to better reach their students, that they’re able to make the content accessible, relevant to the student,” Ortiz-Licon said. “But in some markets just mentioning the word ‘diversity’ could be controversial.”
The advisory council will also look at increasing the number of educators certified to work with English-learners. About 75 percent of the English-learner student population in public schools speak Spanish as their home language.
Challenges abound to keeping well-trained Latino teachers in classrooms
Some national challenges to the council’s work are already clear.
There’s the challenge, for instance, of ensuring Latino students graduate high school and go on to complete a bachelor’s degree on their way toward a teaching career, which in itself presents obstacles ranging from finances, to student loan debt, to academic preparation, to the impact of immigration status, Ortiz-Licon said.
There’s the question of how well teacher-preparation programs instruct all teachers to serve culturally and linguistically diverse students.
And when more Latino educators are hired, there’s the issue of making sure they stay.
In 2019, Latinos for Education did a survey of Latino educators in Massachusetts, and learned that, on average, they left the field within four years of entry.
The educators cited inadequate salary, but also experiences with microaggressions, opposition when trying to make instructional content more culturally and linguistically relevant, and being asked to do translation or lead diversity, equity, and inclusion work without extra compensation.
Such issues are also cited among Latino educators outside of Massachusetts.
One of the advisory council’s goals will be to capture the nuances within Latino educators, who represent a range of experiences and backgrounds. They may or may not be bilingual, they are culturally diverse, and they have differing reasons for choosing to enter or leave the teaching profession.
“Do not narrow our existence to one issue,” Ortiz-Licon said. “Do not cluster our community into one sort of predetermined narrative of who we are and why we’re in the field or not.”