First posted on the Rural Education blog
Some districts in Montana that serve Native American students are attempting to increase the percentage of Native teachers in the hopes that those teachers will have a positive impact on achievement, according to a story by Slate.
Although the percentage of Native teachers in Montana has only increased by 0.4 percentage points since the 1995-96 school year, several districts have seen a sharp rise. The Hays-Lodge Pole school district in northern Montana has increased its percentage of American Indian teachers from 38 percent in 1997 to 78 percent this year. Nearly 100 percent of the district’s students are American Indian, compared to nearly 12 percent statewide.
According to the article, many administrators are trying to increase American Indian teachers because they believe that those teachers can better understand Native culture and persistent issues, such as intergenerational poverty and suicide. There are also certain tribal traditions that non-Native teachers may not understand or could misinterpret, like understanding that when students avoid eye contact, it’s a sign of respect, not disrespect.
Districts in Montana may be on the right track. In Wisconsin, one tribal district reported earlier this year that increasing the rolls of Native teachers has been key to improving academic performance. Some research shows that when minority students have minority teachers, they are less likely to receive suspensions and expulsions and more likely to graduate.
During the 2011-12 school year, less than one percent of teachers nationwide identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, a percentage that has remained consistent over the past decade. Several universities have tried to recruit American Indian students to teacher preparation programs in an attempt to mitigate this shortage.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.