Dear Asian Youth,
In my eleven years of being a student, I have never had a teacher of color. This year, at least half the student population at my school are Black, Indigenous, or people of color yet nearly the entire staff is white. My friends and I have made plenty of jokes about this lack of racial diversity as we flip through our yearbooks and remember all the times our white teachers couldn’t tell us apart, but I never wondered about the reason behind all-white staffs that don’t reflect student demographics. While there are certainly causes related to prejudiced hiring, the sheer lack of BIPOC teachers is primarily the result of a greater issue: the active undervaluation of educators.
The lack of BIPOC in public education is astounding. When the Washington Post analyzed data from school districts from 46 states and the District of Columbia, they found that only 0.1% of Latino students attend a school system where the percentage of Latino teachers equals or exceeds the percentage of Latino students. For Black students, that number is 7% and for Asian students, the percentage is 4.5%. On the flip side, 99.7% of white students attend school systems with a percentage of white staff that equals or exceeds the percentage of white students.
The graph below shows this data by plotting the students of color in percentages on the x-axis and teachers of color in percentages on the y-axis. The lower right corner is where the greatest teacher of color gap exists. The size of the dots shows the total student population in each district. The dotted line illustrates the points at which there is an equal share of teachers and students of color. The lack of data points on or above this line prove the lack of diversity, and a vast majority of the points that are on this line are only there because there are so few students of color in these schools to start with.
This disparity is unfortunate for students of color because teachers of color often foster better relationships with their students of color, through more culturally relevant teachings and a better understanding of their lived experiences. Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Disruptive Behavior: The Effect of Racial Congruence and Consequences for School Suspension by the University of California, Santa Barbara provided a poignant example by proving that Black teachers are less likely than their white counterparts to perceive their Black students’ behavior as disruptive. The study states that just a 30% increase in exposure to Black teachers results in a 28%-38% decrease in the probability of suspension for eighth-grade Black students. Similarly, Center for American Progress found that when Black students had a non-Black and a Black teacher, their Black teachers tended to have higher confidence inof their student’s’ academic abilities than the non-Black teachers. This is incredibly important because studies such as Research on School Suspension by the North Caroline Family Impact Seminar show that schools employing “Teachers with consistent, positive, clear, and high behavioral and academic expectations of students” resulted in lower rates of suspension.
Teachers play an incredibly important part in the development of adolescents. They are the role models for hundreds of students, especially for those who lack adult figures to look up to in their lives outside of school. Evidently, teachers of color play a very special and crucial role, but there are incredibly few teachers of color in the workforce. One of the primary reasons for this disparity is the way that America consistently undervalues teachers. According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers earn 19.2% less than comparable college graduates. Furthermore, USA Today posts a 2018 PDK poll that asks parents from 1969 to 2018 whether they would like their children to be teachers. The decreasing percentage of parents who answered affirmatively shows that teachers are no longer considered a respected profession.
The lack of respect for teachers causes less and less people to want to enter that profession, despite the fact that teachers play one of the most prominent roles in shaping today’s youth. As an Asian American, I have also been guilty of falling into this false line of thinking, as my parents have made being an educator, something to look down upon, despite the fact that I myself have had educators who have changed my life. This issue specifically harms certain teachers of color who, as stated in The Atlantic, can't maintain a work-life balance when they are serving lower-income communities with inadequate training and poor classrooms for insufficient wages. The writer of the article, Amanda Machado goes on to state that, “Because our backgrounds often parallel those of our students, the issues in our classrooms hit us more personally. This ultimately places an extreme amount of pressure on us to be good teachers immediately, since we know or have experienced ourselves the consequences of an insufficient education.” These difficulties are reflected in a 2005 University of Pennsylvania study by Richard Ingersoll that revealed that the turnover rate for teachers of color is 24% higher than for white teachers.
It is important for society to place more value on the people who determine the future. Once educators are given the respect that they deserve, we will begin to see more teachers of color. My hope is that as more students see teachers who look like them, they will be encouraged to pursue careers in education and more students will feel represented by the members of their school’s staff.
- Lora Kwon
Cover Photo Source: EWA