Magazine article Leadership

In Search of Educators of Color: If We Make School a More Positive Experience for Students of Color, They'll Be More Likely to Continue with Their Education, and Perhaps Select Teaching as a Profession

Magazine article Leadership

In Search of Educators of Color: If We Make School a More Positive Experience for Students of Color, They'll Be More Likely to Continue with Their Education, and Perhaps Select Teaching as a Profession

Article excerpt

One of the most common misunderstandings about the composition of the teaching profession, and hence, educational administration, is that it is merely a professional choice: someone chooses to be a teacher rather than a business person, a lawyer, a food service worker, a nurse, a truck driver.

In reality, many decisions are made for young people long before they become aware that they even have a choice. The research completed for the book, "The Color of Teaching" (Gordon, 2000a), requires into the impediments students encounter along the way that might dissuade them from becoming a teacher.

In discussions with more than 200 teachers of color in urban school districts across America, I came to understand, from their perspective, how and why we are facing a serious crisis in the diversification of our teaching force and some possible ways to address the problem.

Interviews were conducted with teachers who self identified as Latino, Native American, African American and Asian American. Access to the districts was facilitated by administrators of color in each city who had knowledge of my prior research and who felt the interviews would enable teachers to reflect on issues critical to improving their practice and that of future teachers.

Learning from each other

I am grateful to the teachers and administrators in the San Francisco Bay Area; Long Beach, Calif.; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Seattle, Wash. and for their trust and time. Through their voices many educators have learned to look at their students, their teaching, their assumptions and their own lives in radically different ways.

My work is based on the belief that attracting more students of color to the teaching profession is essential in providing both a high-quality education for all children and an optimal professional climate for teachers. This has nothing to do with race-matched teaching; it has everything to do with bringing a variety of committed and capable people together whose life experiences enable us to better understand the complexity of issues facing young people and their families today.

But simply filling teaching positions with people of color doesn't deal with the issues either. Far too often this leads to segregation among and within schools, with Spanish-speaking teachers expected to teach English language learners and African American teachers expected to work in the most difficult schools.

True diversity means that we all take responsibility and learn from each other. This requires trust, humility, time and the ability to honestly listen, setting aside the fear, the anger and the need to prove oneself right. It also means accepting the complexity that exists within every socially-constructed category of individuals as well as how socio-economic class, education and family background influence us all.

Understanding the history of minority communities' experience with schooling in the U.S. is essential to gain insights into the disaffection of youth and the challenges of recruiting a more diverse teaching force. Logically, if we understand ways to make K-12 schooling a more positive experience for students of color, more will continue with their education and more will graduate from colleges and universities, increasing the possibility they will select teaching as a profession and, hence, be a part of the pool of candidates who will assume leadership for our nation's schools.

The research presented here demonstrates that the images of teachers and the teaching profession as developed and sustained within various American cultural and economic communities are as much a contribution to any shortage of teachers of color as are the structural impediments so frequently cited. First, some brief looks at the historical context of education for the four groups addressed in this research.

African Americans

One of the many ironies of the segregation era occurred because of the limited jobs available to African Americans. …

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