There is a well-known shortage of minority teachers in the United States educational system. Compounded by the fact there is a teacher shortage in general, many urban schools are constantly scrambling to find more teachers of color to better represent their predominantly minority student bodies and that is important. The importance of black and brown students having at least a few black and brown teachers cannot be understated. Research shows having a diverse teaching staff leads to better academic outcomes. For example, a recent study showed that having just one black teacher makes black students much more likely to graduate.
While it is unquestionably important to make sure students of color have a few teachers of color, it is also important to make sure white students have teachers of color too. The changing demographics of the United States dictate, that sooner or later, most people are going to have to interact with people from different backgrounds. White students who graduate being taught by only white teachers are missing a valuable learning experience.
If you are a student that has never interacted with people from a different race, then you are at a steep disadvantage in real life starting in college. Even in semi-rural states, most of the major colleges have a few students and professors from different ethnic backgrounds. One of the prominent struggles that students have in college is adjusting to being around different types of people. K-12 schools could mitigate this struggle by having a diverse staff.
After college, interacting with different types of people becomes even more essential. Most productive members of society will have to work with or work for someone of a different ethnic background in their life. When people don’t have these experiences, they are less competitive in the marketplace.
For example, how many business scandals around race could have been avoided if people had a better understanding of people of color? Perhaps the RAM Truck Martin Luther King Super Bowl commercial would have never made it off the drawing board if more of their advertising personnel interacted with people of color. Dove could have saved themselves a major headache if they had more culturally experienced employees. Note: Both of these incidents could have also been avoided by hiring more black people too.
We need to make sure students of color have teachers of color, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are increasingly moving towards a global economy, and a diverse staff in the K-12 educational system would help students of all races be better prepared. Administration of suburban and rural schools should think about diversifying their staff.
This post was written by Andrew Pillow, and originally ran on the Indy.Education Blog.
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.