July 23, 2019

Here's What You Can Do to Help Close the Teacher Diversity Gap

close the teacher diversity gap

Look around your classrooms. Do all the students look the same?

Of course not.

So why is when we think of the word "teacher", the first image that comes to mind is usually that of a nice white lady? Like it or not, the current teacher workforce doesn't accurately reflect the student body. 

In fact, data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows people of color make up more than one-third of the US labor force, yet less than 20% of teachers are people of color. Meanwhile, students of color make up almost half of the public school population.

And in cities like Boston, there is only one Hispanic teacher for every 52 Hispanic students and one African American teacher for every 22 African American students.

The gap is huge, and it's on us to close it. Let's take a look at some of the practical ways you can start hiring a more diverse teaching staff.

Hire diverse teachers, elevate the profession

When topics like race, gender and diversity come to the surface, there's a very real temptation to bury your head in the sand—but as leaders and administrators, we have a responsibility to face these complexities head-on.

Because the teacher diversity gap has very real consequences for students.

Research shows teachers of color simply do a better job of engaging students of color, consistently increasing high school completion and college attendance rates better than white teachers.

And according to a study from Johns Hopkins University, African American students who have at least one African American teacher in elementary school are 29% more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college.

If you stop to think about it, it just makes sense.

“What does it mean to a student when all the black and brown people in the building are the help?" asks Kirk Sykes, the principal of Baltimore County Public Schools. "They are the janitors, the cafeteria workers, but not the teachers.”

According to the TeachStrong Coalition, if school communities and teacher training programs did a better job of actively recruiting diverse candidates, “their students’ achievement, sense of possibility, and range of opportunities would improve. This could create a cycle of positive reinforcement whereby more students of diverse backgrounds are prepared to enter the teaching profession.”

A "cycle of positive reinforcement" that leads to a thriving teacher labor market? Yes, please! 🙋🏾

Here are some actionable ways you can help make it happen.

First, make it a mission

“I was never recruited as an educator. Not a single person ever came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we need you to teach, right now, ” says Robert E. Croston, Principal of Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts and TeachStrong ambassador.

Unfortunately, the cycle works both ways. 

Because so many of us are accustomed to seeing white teachers, we carry an unconscious bias that prevents us from approaching qualified candidates from minority groups.

Clearly, it’s time to step up our game:

  • Set diversity goals: at least 50% of teachers in your organization should be part of a minority.
  • Sponsor high school programs that introduce teaching as a profession.
  • Develop partnerships with organizations and traditionally black colleges. 
  • Hold regular recruitment events targeting diverse candidates.

Once you've made it your mission to recruit a more diverse teaching staff, it's time to reach out and spread the word in your community.

For example, the Grow Your Own program advocates for increasing the number of teachers of color by coordinating partnerships between universities, school districts and community organizers.

Next, revamp your perks and sourcing strategies

As your workforce evolves, so too should your benefit offerings. 

Perks like flexible working, insurance coverage for partners and financial assistance can go a long way in attracting the new generation of teachers. Once you've updated your offer to reflect the real needs of a diverse teaching staff, it's time to let them know what sets your school apart.

67% of job seekers say they care about diversity statistics. Yet, many employers still skimp by on an impersonal, jargon-packed Fair Hiring Statement.

Here are some ways to attract diverse teachers:

  • Post open positions on job boards dedicated to diversity hiring.
  • Always include an awesome EEO statement and your latest diversity and inclusion statistics.
  • Use financial perks like loan forgiveness, relocation bonuses and other incentives to attract teachers from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Leverage social media and personal networks to attract talent from everywhere.
  • Sponsor programs that help classroom assistants and education support specialists become certified teachers. 

This probably goes without saying, but we're going to say it anyway:

Once hired, make sure minority teachers receive the support they need to stay on board. 

Recent research from Harvard revealed that 12% of employees left a job due to uncivil treatment. Focus your efforts on building a staff community that actively values and encourages diversity, even on the most stressful days in the classroom.

Last but not least, always address teacher needs

Closing the teacher diversity gap isn't just about recruitment—it's about retention.

More than 8% of US teachers are leaving the profession every year and if you lose your best teachers, all of the above work will have been for nothing.

Here are a few ways to show your appreciation:

  • Create a robust onboarding experience that gives new teachers the chance to ask questions and develop relationships with colleagues.
  • Provide teachers with targeted professional development programs that encourage continuous growth.
  • Make sure you offer teachers constant feedback and opportunities to sharpen their skills.
  • Offer bonuses, incentives and rewards for a job well done.

Done right, recruiting a diverse teaching workforce will not only help students reach greater academic heights, but it will also help alleviate the teacher labor shortage for good. 

But in order to achieve true diversity among your teaching staff, you’ll need to set long-term goals and apply resourceful strategies to help you stick to them. Because as student communities become more vibrant and diverse, the educators serving them must do the same.

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