In a new report, Latino teachers say they have unique strengths that benefit their students and the whole school—but that sometimes hamper their own professional success.
The report, released today by The Education Trust, tells the stories of Latino teachers who say they want to advocate for their students, which might mean incorporating the Spanish language or Latino culture into their classrooms or accepting the added responsibilities of being a translator. But when they do this work, they say, they are viewed as being inferior teachers or only good for Latino students—and that they are overlooked for advancement opportunities.
Only 9 percent of public school teachers are Latino, according to federal education data. For this report, the researchers spoke to 90 Latino teachers in public schools in five states and the District of Columbia. Most of the participants were women, and most taught in cities. Nearly one-third of the teachers had more than 15 years of experience. The sample was largely representative of Latino teachers in the United States (although researchers spoke to mostly elementary teachers, which does not align with national data).
The teachers in the sample represented a variety of cultures and races. They said that often, non-Latino educators made the false assumption that all Latinos share the same cultural heritage and that they should be able to relate to all Latino students. When they can relate to their students’ backgrounds, however, the teachers said they act as role models and are able to create a classroom culture where students feel welcome.
“I think that brings ... a closeness,” said one teacher, who reports singing a Spanish lullaby with her students. "[Students] don’t feel threatened to come talk to us, because [we] make them feel at home.”
Still, Latino teachers reported feeling like they had to validate their teaching ability. White colleagues sometimes assume that they are teaching assistants or paraprofessionals instead of classroom teachers, they said—or that their teaching abilities work because they can relate to Latino students, not because they’re actually good teachers. Several of the Latino teachers in the sample said this type of discrimination made them feel like they couldn’t become school leaders.
Latino teachers said they feel obligated to be an advocate for their Latino students by pointing out microaggressions or discrimination from other students, teachers, or school leaders. If a teacher or a student makes an offensive comment about Latino students, white educators look to the Latino teacher to say something, teachers said.
“There’s a constant battle, too, and it becomes uncomfortable when you’re the only one who is pointing things out,” one teacher said. “Any time you speak up you’re perceived as aggressive, adversarial, noncompliant, defiant.”
Latino teachers who are bilingual report being asked to serve as translators for parent-teacher conferences, student-teacher conferences, and other communications from the district. “It’s another job on top of teaching,” one teacher said. “Every single year I am pointed out as someone who speaks Spanish, to be a resource for the entire school.”
Many of the bilingual teachers said they wanted to be a resource for their Latino students, but the extra responsibilities were taxing and took away time from planning.
This report follows the Education Trust’s report on black teachers’ experiences, which found that many black teachers feel as if they have been pigeonholed into specific roles, including that of disciplinarian or mentor to every black student. Those teachers often felt alienated and devalued.
Teachers of color leave the profession at higher rates. Ashley Griffin, the author of the report and the interim director of research at Education Trust, said this pair of reports breaks down both the similarities and differences of the challenges black and Latino teachers face. Too often, she said, Latino teachers’ contributions and challenges are conflated with conversations about black teachers.
“We wanted to deliberately call out that Latino teachers are different from black teachers and have a set of ... unique challenges,” she said.
The report points to grow-your-own programs as a way to recruit and retain more Latino teachers. I recently wrote about efforts in Denver—including a high school class and a teaching residency program—to recruit more Hispanic men into the teaching profession.
Image: Photo of Angel Magana, a paid paraprofessional hoping to become a teacher, working with a student in a Denver elementary school. —Nathan W. Armes for Education Week/File
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.