Walk into most elementary schools in the US, and you may be shocked at how little diversity exists among teachers there. Black teachers are incredibly valuable at all levels of education here, but they are very limitedly available. That’s a disservice to classrooms and students of all types.

What Is the Current State of Teacher Diversity in Schools Today?

The statistics are staggering. The National Center for Education Statistics shows that, for the 2017 to 2018 school year, 79% of teachers in public schools stated they were non-Hispanic/white. Just 7% were Black and non-Hispanic. That means that fewer than one in every ten teachers was Black. However, 47% of all elementary and secondary school students for the same year were white, and 15% were Black.

How Does Having Black Teachers Affect Student Outcomes?

Photo by Katerina Holmes

The lack of representation in classrooms is worrisome for many reasons. Specifically, the lack of teacher diversity could limit the success of many of those students. A study conducted by John Hopkins University found that Black students who have just one Black teacher by the time they are in 3rd grade were 13% more likely to go to college. Those with two Black teachers were 32% more likely.

Teacher beliefs about student college potential also influence student outcomes. A paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that a 20% increase in teachers’ expectations can directly impact a student’s chance of finishing school. When teacher expectations are raised by 20%, there is about a 6% increase in white students finishing college. The amount grows to 10% for Black students. Core to this, though, is that Black students had the highest endorsements from Black teachers. Yet, with so few Black teachers available, that directly impacts their ability to have the same benefits as white students.

Why does this happen? Many believe it’s the “role model effect.” When a Black student has a Black teacher, they are more likely to work towards achieving better outcomes. That’s not just in school but throughout adulthood. The sooner that role model goes into effect, the better. The John Hopkins report found that Black students who had a Black teacher in kindergarten were 18% more likely to go to college than their peers.


What Are Some Ways to Increase Racial Representation Among Teachers?

How do you get more Black teachers in the classroom and schools? There’s no simple process, but there are some promising opportunities. To create educational equality, several initiatives could be beneficial.

Fund scholarships and loan forgiveness

One of the ways to increase diversity and equity in classrooms is to create more scholarships and loan forgiveness programs to help students transition into these positions. Recruiting and retaining teachers willing to work in underserved communities is much like doing the same for medical professionals. A study from the Learning Policy Institutedemonstrates this. It found that the financial benefit must offset the cost of professional preparation. When that happens, retaining quality educational professionals in underserved communities is more likely.

Build in teacher residency programs

Getting more aspiring teachers into classrooms early can also help. Teacher residency programs enable this, allowing for an apprentice-like opportunity that enables students to get graduate-level education under a lead teacher while working directly with students in the classroom. This enables teachers to learn valuable classroom management skills in a real-world setting.

Create mentoring programs and affinity groups on college campuses

To support equity and diversity, it is critical to give Black teachers the tools they need to remain engaged and strive to enter the classroom before they have their degrees. Mentoring programs and affinity groups help reach this goal. Located on college campuses, they provide candidates of color a place to support, interact with, and network with others of the same ethnicity, race, or local or cultural background. They create a way to share life experiences and build confidence and respect.

Increase recruiting

Recruiting Black teachers must be done in schools and outside of schools within the public itself. By providing more opportunities for teacher education and recruiting young students entering college to pursue an education degree, it’s possible to build stronger representation.

  • Identify students who would make good educators early on, including in high school.
  • Make it easy for students to learn about community colleges, public colleges, and educational paths for getting a teaching degree.
  • Encourage high school students interested in education to take on leadership roles within their schools.
  • Create clear opportunities for access to scholarships and grants. 
  • Educate high school students, even in the 9th and 10th grades, about the availability of good-paying, meaningful jobs in education that are accessible.
  • Work to educate the public about the value of having Black teachers in every classroom – not just in those classrooms where the majority of students are Black.

What Challenges Do Black Teachers Face in the Classroom?

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Educational equity is limited for many reasons, and for some, that stems from the numerous challenges Black teachers face in a classroom and with students. Why do so many Black teachers walk away from education?

Racism is a constant threat. It’s an epidemic in many schools and stems from other teachers, students, and parents. Whether small micro-aggressive statements to downright lack of support from school leadership, Black teachers face challenges every day. Even the most devoted teachers struggle with racial fatigue and maintaining their motivation to come in each day. Stress and anxiety limit the success of these teachers, and that directly impacts students.

What Strategies Can Be Used to Promote Greater Inclusion of Black Teachers?

Throughout this process is the need for all schools and the community itself to create policies, resources, and strategies to support Black teachers and build more inclusion into every classroom. There are various ways to do this. The Regional Educational Laboratory Program shares a few key opportunities to do so.

To foster an inclusive and antiracist environment that supports teacher diversity, consider the application of strategies such as:

  • Creating an affinity space for culture and race.
  • Schools should work to develop hiring based on their school community’s makeup, even though that may be challenging to do in some areas.
  • Connect Black education with school districts for mentoring opportunities. Encourage Black teachers to support and foster a love of education in students who may one day wish to teach themselves.
  • Develop culturally competent teachers and school leaders, those that support diversity and racial representation.
  • Use loan forgiveness programs, scholarship opportunities, and other resources to help encourage students to enter this field.

Black teachers are vital to education, yet equity and diversity seem sorely lacking today. To break barriers in teacher diversity, it’s critical for schools and the public as a whole to work to support the development of the next generation of classroom leaders.

Learn more about the role of Black teachers in education and celebrate Black Life, Arts & Culture at BLAC Detroit.

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