A Lin Goodwin & Keisha McIntosh. 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook. Editor: Thomas L Good. Sage Publication. 2008.
This chapter begins with certain basic assumptions about a diverse teaching force. These assumptions are held as “truths” within the space of this conversation. This is not to suggest that everyone uniformly believes these truths, or that there might not be ideas that are at least as powerful or compelling. However, it is important to articulate the big concepts underlying this chapter so that the position and perspective of this discussion are clear. First is the assumption that a diverse teaching force is desirable. Thus, this chapter will not engage in an argument about whether diversity among teachers is important, but will present this notion as a given, especially within the context of our multicultural, multiracial society. Second is the firm belief that a diverse teaching force benefits everyone. Undoubtedly, students benefit principally—or perhaps firsthand—but not solely. The field, as well as society at large, profits, as well. Finally, this chapter assumes that one hallmark of a democratic society is that all citizens have the opportunity—and are afforded the opportunity—to participate in all aspects of society. Indeed, diversity among and equality for all stratums of society should be uncompromising goals for any democracy.
Given these assumptions, the purpose of this chapter is to lay out the major issues, topics, and debates surrounding the diversification of, as well as diversity within, the teaching force. Through a discussion organized around key questions, we explain why a diverse teaching force is necessary and important and offer a brief historical look at diversity among teachers. We also describe some strategies and programs that have been used to recruit and retain teachers who are labeled diverse, present some of the barriers that have interfered with efforts to attain diversity among teachers, and take a closer look at some of the issues and debates related to this topic. We hope that by helping you become more knowledgeable about this topic, you will gain a better understanding of what “diversity” means and become familiar with the issues relevant to the recruitment, support, and retention of diverse teachers. Also, you will recognize the need for diversification within the teaching profession so that you can choose to be part of solving the problem and advocate for equality, representativeness, proper representation, fairness, and equity in your daily life.
Why Do We Need a Diverse Teaching Force?
Before we can address this question, it is important to discuss how diversity has been defined. Historically, conceptions of diversity have been socially constructed. There is no single stable or universal definition of diversity, but, rather, a multitude of definitions that have shifted in response to the sociopolitical climate, societal needs and norms, or economic imperatives. Thus, definitions of who is “diverse” or what it means for a profession to achieve diversity have reflected different political, economic, moral, and cultural priorities.
For example, when formal schooling was primarily reserved for the children (typically sons) of the social elite, most teachers were male. With the advent of the “common” school, or public schooling, there was a sudden need for more teachers, and many women were recruited to the profession. Very quickly, the teaching force was rendered more diverse—albeit for economically expedient reasons— because female teachers could be paid less than men. Similarly, the great immigration wave experienced by the United States at the turn of the 20th century brought with it a need for teachers who could work with the increasingly diverse school population. However, even immigrants who possessed the skill—or even the will—to teach were barred from teaching if they did not speak English.
A third, more contemporary, example involves efforts to recruit “minorities” (although “minorities” actually constitute the numeric majority in the global community) through targeted programs and scholarships. A New York State program that aims to attract “underrepresented” groups to teaching does not include individuals of Asian descent, even though Asians and Asian Americans are clearly underrepresented among teachers (Rong & Preissle, 1997), yet represent the fastest growing racial group in the United States (Center for Immigration Studies, 2002). While the guidelines for this program do not specify, one wonders if the exclusion can be attributed to common perceptions of Asians and Asian Americans as “model minorities,” a socially constructed stereotype that was created in the 1960s that served to reify Asians as “super” minorities who apparently needed no government assistance or special considerations (S. J. Lee, 1996). Again, this case reveals the political nature of decisions about who counts as underrepresented or diverse.
Varying definitions and perceptions of diversity complicate the whole issue of a diverse teaching force, as do the persistent debates about who can be called diverse and what group can be included under the diversity label. Nonetheless, this does not change the reasons why a diverse teaching force is critical to our nation. We need a diverse teaching force because (a) we are a diverse country, (b) there is a disconnect between the dominant paradigm that frames schooling and the multiplicities demonstrated by diverse learners (Ladson-Billings, 1994; Bode & Nieto, 2007), (c) there is a well-documented “achievement gap” between Whites and many students of color, particularly African Americans (Bowen & Bok, 1998; Jencks & Phillips, 1998).
Diverse Teachers for a Diverse Country
This first response is straightforward—we should have a teaching force that is representative of the student population. In 1989, Pallas, Natriello, and McDill projected that “by the year 2020, 40% of schoolchildren will be non-White” (cited in Carter and Goodwin, 1994). We are clearly well ahead of schedule. According to NCES statistics, in 2003, about 41% of public school students were minorities. The proportion of those students labeled “minority” becomes even more dramatic when we look at large or midsize city schools where their percentages range on average from 46–97% (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007). In contrast, most small town and rural schools across the United States typically counted about one fifth of their students as minority—most, but not all. According to federal data, in Arizona, Mississippi, Hawaii, and New Mexico, half of students in small town and rural schools are students of color.
Clearly, demographic shifts are not just occurring in central or large cities. By March 2004, the immigrant population had soared to 34.24 million, a record in American history (Camarota, 2004). In fact, since 2000, the immigrant population has been increasing at the rate of about 1 million per year and accounts for 12% of the overall population. According to recent census data (Center for Immigration Studies, 2002), between 1990 and 2000 the foreign-born population increased 57%, compared to a 31% increase between 1900 and 1910—the peak of the “great” wave of immigration. (Center for Immigration Studies, 2002). In addition, the current immigration wave is not simply larger, but is markedly different in its demographics, with the majority of new arrivals coming from Asia and Latin America, but not Europe (Camarota, 2004). If current trends continue, by the end of this decade the percentage of foreign-born people in the United States will surpass the 1890 record of 14.8% (Center for Immigration Studies, 2002). Clearly, “diversity is not a choice” (Howard, 1999, p. 2). It seems essential to expect some level of demographic parity between those who teach and those who are taught.
Connecting Schooling to Diverse Learners
Many scholars have written about the disjunction between the dominant paradigm that frames schooling and the multiplicities demonstrated by diverse learners (Delpit, 1995). Schools conform to and perpetuate narrow conceptions and measurements of intelligence, knowing, and success: views that invariably find children of color and girls lacking (Goodwin, 2002b). Numerous investigations have sought to discern the mediating influence of race and culture on children’s ways of knowing and sense-making styles. Huber and Pewewardy (1990) extensively reviewed research examining cultural cognitive styles that concluded that different racial and ethnic groups display numerous cognitive, learning-style, interactional, and communicative preferences. Researchers have theorized that the differences in school experiences and academic achievement of children of color may be attributed to a mismatch between the culture of the school and the culture in the homes of pupils.
These theories raise the possibility that culturally and linguistically, diverse children may learn in culture-specific ways and require instruction that capitalizes on their learning styles and strengths, rather than emphasizes their deficits. These theories also suggest that the manner in which children of color receive, manipulate, transform, and express knowledge, as well as their task and modality preferences and the ways in which they interact and communicate with others, may not be well explained by mainstream learning theory, traditionally grounded in White children’s ways of knowing. (Carter & Goodwin, 1994, p. 319)
Ways of knowing notwithstanding, it would be unwise for teachers to rush to categorize children according to learning-style preference or to use these theories as rigid indicators of how culturally diverse children learn. Much of what we know remains inconclusive and untested. Rather, the lesson teachers can, and should, take from this body of literature is the idea that children learn and perceive the world in dissimilar ways. Therefore, meeting the instructional and personal needs of diverse learners demands teachers who are diverse themselves and who can create more inclusive classroom cultures that embrace multiple ways of knowing.
The Achievement Gap between Students of Color and White Students
The achievement gap between White students and students of color, particularly African Americans, has been well-documented (Jencks & Phillips, 1998) This gap persists despite progress toward educational equality, positive shifts in the socioeconomic status of minority families, and a significant (but short-lived) narrowing of the gap between the 1960s and the late 1980s (J. Lee, 2002). Research conducted to identify variables that might explain this performance disparity has isolated a variety of factors and conditions including family or parental characteristics, school or teacher conditions or quality, and differences in income levels.
Yet, according to Lucas (2000), achievement gap comparisons and analyses are inherently flawed because they wrongly presume all variables can be statistically controlled across groups. He concludes, “the continued presence of qualitative differences in experience destroys the possibility of statistically equating … groups” (p. 467). In his discussion, Lucas focuses on the achievement gap between Blacks and Whites; we would posit that the same conclusion can be generally extended to other students of color who consistently fall behind Whites academically and fail to reach their full potential. Lucas’ argument highlights that uneven achievement between Whites and other culturally or linguistically diverse groups cannot be explained simply. Rather, they must be examined within the context of the lived experiences of visible racial, ethnic group members in a racially-bounded and socioeconomically stratified U.S. society.
There is ample evidence that poor and minority children typically attend under-resourced schools in terms of the physical school plant, instructional materials, the depth and richness of the curriculum, and the expertise and quality of teachers (Darling-Hammond, 1995; Peske & Haycock, 2006). Indeed, history has recorded that racism, segregation, poverty, and unequal schooling have uniformly denied children of color the tools and skills to compete successfully against White children (Goodwin, 2002b). Research has also found that children of color, often labeled “disadvantaged,” are disproportionately assigned to the lowest academic tracks or ability groups or in special education, where they receive curricula that are simplified and watered down (Darling-Hammond, 1995; Oakes, 1985).
Still, we persist in “a revisionist view of American education” (Greer, 1973, p. 44) that overrates the part schools have played in social amelioration, minimizes the existence of racism, and turns a blind eye to inequality. We embrace an “egalitarian discourse [that] is reconciled with the massive inequities of our social, economic, and political lives” (Shapiro & Purpel, 1993, p. 62), and allow many contemporary reform proposals to offer “little or no mention of … how poverty, racism, and limited expectations affect the educational treatment of poor and minority children” (Oakes, 1993, p. 96).
There is not enough evidence to unequivocally say that a more diverse teaching force would narrow the performance gap or ensure better school experiences for children of color. However, there is support for the notion that teachers who look like “other people’s children” (Delpit, 1995) and have also experienced an inequitable education, may be more likely to recognize and interrupt discriminatory schooling practices and stand as advocates and role models for children of color.
Why Don’t We Have a Diverse Teaching Force?
History informs us that excellent schooling has always been reserved for the privileged and has been organized to serve their interests and reflect their values and experiences (Goodwin, 2002b; Greer, 1973). According to social-reproduction theorists, schools have replicated social stratifications and inequities by grooming students for future roles as predetermined by their class and race. As such, public schools have been a mechanism for social control used to “Americanize” (i.e., indoctrinate), categorize, and exclude those who are “different” or poor, and are “the key institution in the practical process of social differentiation and selection and the heart of the ideological process through which inequality is made to seem legitimate” (Shapiro & Purpel, 1993, p. 62).
The role that teachers of color have played in this history has been described as either complimentary or contradictory to that intended by the dominant culture. This struggle between what people of color have wanted for their community versus what the White community allowed for people of color had an impact on the number of teachers of color within the field of education before the 1980s and when resolving the homogeneity of the teaching force became part of the educational agenda adopted by researchers and policy makers.
A Brief History of Diversity in the Teaching Profession
Any discussion about diversity in the teaching profession is unavoidably incomplete and partial given the emphasis in the literature on diversity as defined by race, and disproportionate availability of information on African American teachers. This is partially due to ongoing arguments about who can or should be considered diverse, and to the longevity and intimacy of relationships and interactions between African Americans (compared to other minority groups) and Whites.
Following the ostensible dissolution of slavery, formerly enslaved African Americans were frequently taught by White teachers in community-supported free schools and Sabbath schools, which operated during the evenings and on weekends. Although schooling was systematically denied to African Americans, they steadfastly persisted in their view of education as a means to freedom and racial uplift (Fultz, 1995). In the late 1800s, African Americans began to advocate more and more for African American teachers who could serve as authentic role models for their children (Dilworth & Brown, 2008). Thus, the African American community viewed education as a way to enhance their social position in order to achieve parity with their White counterparts; White leaders generally viewed education as a means to “civilize” African Americans and prepare them for a life of subordination. This conflict in ideology frequently played out within normal schools, where African Americans were trained to become teachers for African American students (Fultz, 1995). In one example, philanthropic funds were denied to schools that did not adhere to the vision that African American students should receive an industrial education. Within the poor South, such a loss of school funding could be devastating.
This consequence, however, was one that many African American principals, teachers, and community members were willing to face in order to achieve long-term goals that they valued. Thus, in the struggle for equality, education was an important platform for social change, and it became an arena that many African Americans entered as teachers and activists. This changed quite dramatically after Brown v.Board of Education (1954). Despite the requirement that all schools become desegregated, White teachers frequently displaced African American teachers within segregated schools. In addition, African American teachers were not always welcomed at schools within White communities. As a result, an estimated 38,000 African American teachers lost their jobs due to desegregation (Tillman, 2004), a loss from which the teaching profession has still not recovered.
Though there were frequently conflicts between African Americans’ conception of education for their children and White industrialists’ conception of education for African Americans, the dominant culture was much more explicit in their goal to assimilate Native Americans by denying them access to their language and culture. As a result, the presence of Native American teachers within federally sponsored Indian Service schools and boarding schools was extremely scarce, so as not to impede progress toward assimilation (Hale, 2002). Normal schools served as institutions to indoctrinate the few Native American teachers who did exist into the ideology that reproduce when teaching Native American children, which emphasized domesticity and manual labor. The legacy of this history is that today, Native American teachers make up less than 1% of the professional teaching force within the United States. Historical data about the presence of other teachers of color in the United States are very sketchy. As mentioned earlier, this may be due to the long-standing presence of African Americans within this country, but it is also conceivably related to the work and energy of African American scholars who have focused on filling the void within the history of teaching in the United States. Nonetheless, work to revise and augment the history of teachers continues. For instance, we have learned that a common element shared by communities of color is that discrimination and exclusionary practices frequently served as the impetus for the creation of their own schools taught by teachers from the community (Dilworth & Brown, 2008) to ensure that the cultural and linguistic needs of students were met. Current efforts to diversify the field strive to meet the same aims (Chinn & Wong, 1991; Steeley, 2003).
Reasons for the Decline of Teachers of Color
Most of the literature regarding the lack of diversity within the teaching profession focuses on the paucity of African American teachers within the field. It can be inferred, however, that some of the sociopolitical explanations for the absence of African American teachers can be applied to other people of color who have endured similar histories of racism and discrimination within the United States. These explanations include an increased emphasis on standardized teacher competency exams, expanded career opportunities for women and people of color, inequitable learning opportunities for students of color, and the classification of teaching as a low-status profession.
Increased Emphasis on Competency Exams
With the inception of the standards movement during the 1980s, states, districts, principals, and teachers have become more accountable for the performance of all students. Higher accountability for teachers has translated into an increased dependency upon norm-referenced tests, such as the Praxis Test series developed by Educational Testing Service (ETS), many of which are considered culturally biased. Between 1984 and 1989, an estimated 37,717 teachers of color and teacher candidates of color were excluded from the field as a result of new teacher certification and teacher education program requirements (Hudson & Holmes, 1994). One of the major issues regarding teacher certification exams that is difficult to dispute is their emphasis on language ability, which frequently disqualifies linguistic minority teacher candidates (Rong & Preissle, 1997). Another major issue raised is that teacher certification exams do not acknowledge culturally relevant pedagogy, which successful teachers of color utilize in their classrooms. Instead, current teacher competency exams value Eurocentric, middle-class teaching methods over those that have been shown to be effective for students of color. This underscores the need for teacher certification reform efforts to reconsider definitions of “good” teaching and teacher knowledge in ways that are more culturally and linguistically inclusive.
Expanded Career Opportunities for Women and People of Color
Another major factor contributing to a decline in the number of teachers of color is the expanded career opportunities available to people of color. For many first generation college students of color before the civil rights movement, teaching was a respected profession and a means toward upward mobility. Additionally, segregated schools within the South employed all African American faculty, so for many African Americans in the South, teaching was also a matter of opportunity (Stewart, Meier, & England, 1989). More recently, however, professions, including those with a higher status than teaching, have become more open to people of color. Thus, teaching has become one among many career choices for women and people of color, those who once could be counted on to enter teaching in large numbers. Between 1981 and 1991, degrees awarded to people of color in a variety of areas including business, the social sciences, health, biological and life sciences, and engineering increased anywhere from 31% to about 89% (Darling-Hammond, Dilworth & Bullmaster, 1996). Paradoxically, the sociopolitical strides made during the civil rights movement that greatly improved career opportunities for people of color also had an adverse effect upon achieving diversity in the teaching force.
Inequitable Opportunities to Learn for Students of Color
There are several factors affecting college attendance for students of color, including affordability. However, financial considerations aside, students educated within inadequate schools are less likely to choose (or be chosen by) postsecondary education because they lack the academic preparation necessary to attend college. Fenwick (2001) contends that minority students are five times more likely to attend schools with high turnover rates and be taught by inexperienced teachers, teachers who are not certified within the subject they teach, or those who do not hold high standards for students and fail to respond to students’ individual needs. Further, students who do enroll in postsecondary education may not choose education as a major because of the negative experiences they had in school.
Teaching as a Low-Status Profession
Part of the low level of respect given to teaching as a profession can be attributed to the de-skilling of the profession by policy makers and other stakeholders outside of the profession. Darling-Hammond (1984) contends that the factory model of schooling directed at turning schools into more efficient institutions by sorting students according to their intellectual capacity is also responsible for taking decision making out of the hands of teachers in the hopes of creating a teacher-proof curriculum. Teaching has also been traditionally conceptualized as a feminized profession; its esteem as a profession mirrors the low esteem given to other types of “women’s” work.
What Have We Done to Diversify the Teaching Force?
The lack of diversity within the teaching force has prompted stakeholders to create programs and initiatives to recruit and retain teachers of color. Steeley’s (2003) survey of these efforts serves as a heuristic for successful programs. Among the programs surveyed, Steeley and other researchers have found that successful programs engage candidates in critical inquiry, blend traditional and nontraditional selection criteria to guide recruitment, provide academic and social support, make modifications to program structure and content, provide tuition assistance, and facilitate collaboration between institutions and ethnically diverse communities. Some of the approaches reviewed include alternative and paraprofessional programs, which target career changers and school personnel who do not possess certification, pipeline or precollegiate programs, targeted collegiate initiatives, and individual scholarships.
Qualities of Successful Programs
Typically, teacher candidates enter the profession after completing a sequence of gatekeeping activities including maintaining an acceptable G.P.A., completing relevant coursework, passing one or more state required certification exams, and completing a field experience or practicum. Teacher education programs that successfully recruit people of color into the teaching force, however, recognize the exclusionary elements of these practices. To address this concern, programs utilize a value-added philosophy to guide their recruitment efforts by focusing on candidates who believe all students can learn, view teaching as a desirable profession, and show a commitment to teaching poor children and children of color in high-needs schools (Fenwick, 2001).
One point reiterated throughout the literature on initiatives to diversify teaching is that the academic expectations for candidates of color are no less than those expected of White teacher candidates. Successful programs, however, acknowledge obstacles that are unique to students of color, such as inequitable opportunities to learn and feelings of alienation from one’s culture. To counter these institutional barriers, successful programs provide access to academic resources such as the university writing center and tutors. Additionally, social support in the form of mentoring or cohort groups helps alleviate feelings of alienation that candidates may experience on predominately White college campuses.
Last, by modifying the structure and content of the curriculum, recruitment and retention programs are able to honor and accommodate the lifestyles and real life experiences of teacher candidates of color, especially those currently working in schools. Successful programs offer courses in the evenings, weekends, and during the summer so that candidates are able to continue working while they pursue certification. Programs may also give credit for previous teaching experience. In their discussion of recruiting and retaining Asian teachers within the field, Chinn and Wong (1992) further this idea by arguing that we can draw in a more diverse teaching force if we provide credit for coursework and teaching experiences of candidates who immigrate to the United States. Successful programs also acknowledge the unique perspective of candidates of color by altering mainstream or traditional teacher education curricula and pedagogy in ways that reflect the cultural identities of candidates and their future students.
A Sampling of Different Programs
Consortium approaches combine the efforts and resources of several colleges and universities and often integrate many of the strategies outlined earlier. The Southern Education Foundation sponsored one example of a successful consortium that made strides toward recruiting and retaining teachers of color. The Consortium on Teacher Supply, begun in 1987 with funding from the Bell-South (now called the AT&T Foundation) and The Pew brought six Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and three of the nation’s leading graduate schools of education together as a collective with the goal of increasing the supply and quality of Black teachers in the South.
The consortium designed a number of pipeline programs that served African American students at different points along the education continuum—middle school, college, and postgraduate. For example, the Summer Scholars Program targeted undergraduate students majoring in education and liberal arts at the six HBCUs for an intensive summer experience offered by the graduate school partners. During the residential program, students took courses that deepened their understanding of their subject matter and issues in education. They also visited schools and spoke with principals and current educators about careers in education. Using this approach, consortium members were able to recruit and develop teacher-leaders from the population of students of color at HBCUs (Fenwick, 2001).
Though the goal of pipeline approaches is recruitment, many programs recognize the need for academic and financial support in order to decrease the likelihood that candidates will become a casualty of what Villegas and Lucas (2004) call “a leaky pipeline.” Using this metaphor, Villegas and Lucas describe how students of color are excluded from the teacher pipeline at pivotal points such as graduation from high school, entrance into college and preservice teacher education programs, and graduation from college. Efforts employing this approach, such as magnet schools or teaching academies, institutes and workshops, and extracurricular clubs such as Future Teachers of America, provide not only opportunities for students to develop as future teachers, but also emphasize mentoring and other academic supports to enhance school success (Recruiting New Teachers, 1997).
Government initiatives have been successful in diversifying the teaching force as well. Both federal and state departments of education have concerned themselves with teacher recruitment in general by supporting pipeline initiatives, creating alternative certification programs for career changers and paraprofessionals, and providing financial support for individuals who choose teaching as a career. The California State University Teacher Diversity programs are examples of such an initiative. The programs, which draw their participants from among middle school and high school students, as well as paraprofessionals, provide candidates of color with access to academic support, mentors, and financial assistance to attend one of the California State universities.
Funding earmarked for individual scholarships by philanthropic organizations has also been influential in diversifying the field. For example, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for aspiring teachers of color awards fellowships to undergraduate students of color who choose careers in teaching. Support for fellows includes grants to repay school loans and attend graduate school at one of 25 partnership universities to obtain teaching certification. Additionally, fellows work with faculty mentors at their undergraduate university.
Our discussion shows that there have been substantial efforts to address the teacher diversity issue. It is, however, important to keep in mind that efforts are frequently vulnerable to political influences that affect funding and continued research (Steeley, 2003). Measures to derail race-based projects and scholarships, similar to the challenges of affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan, frequently counteract progress. Thus, sustainable change is contingent upon institutions and individuals that are committed to ensuring equitable access to teaching as a career, thus providing all students with the opportunity to learn from the unique perspectives of teachers of color.
What are the Issues, Dilemmas, and Debates?
Some of the more enduring and perplexing issues include deliberations about the benefits of teachers of color on the learning and achievement of children of color; challenges surrounding the recruitment and retention of teachers of color, intersected by the current debates regarding highly qualified teachers; what it means to achieve a diverse teaching force given the unlikelihood that the profession can recruit enough diverse teachers or teachers of color in proportion to the number of linguistically and culturally diverse students in (and entering) the nation’s classrooms; and the paradox of an overwhelmingly White professoriate preparing a mostly White teaching force poised to instruct an increasingly diverse student body.
The Impact of a Diverse Teaching Force
Much of the literature exhorting the need for more diverse teachers, specifically teachers of color, suggests or presumes a positive relationship between teachers and students of color, especially (but not only or always) between teachers and students who share the same racial or ethnic heritage.
Scant evidence notwithstanding, there is some research that provides insight into the benefits teachers of color bring to their students. For instance, in an analysis of the “impact of demographic profiles” on student achievement, Zum wait and Craig (2005, p. 136) reviewed a number of studies that supported an increase in academic achievement and other positive indicators of school success. Similarly, other researchers (Clewell, Michael, & McKay, 2001; Dee, 2006) found that academic achievement is increased for some students when they are taught by teachers sharing the same race or ethnicity, and that having professors who look like them is important to students in universities (Hood & Parker, 1994). Data collated by the National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force (2004) further support these findings. According to the collaborative, academic performance is favorably affected when students of color are taught by teachers from their own ethnic groups, perhaps because teachers of color have been shown to hold higher expectations for students of color. The collaborative also highlighted studies supporting a relationship between improved school performance among students of color and teachers—from different ethnic groups—who employed instructional strategies that were either culturally responsive or typically reserved for students labeled gifted and talented (we emphasize “labeled” to highlight prevailing measures of “giftedness” that disproportionately identify White, middle-class students as gifted).
The conceptualization, practice, and impact of culturally relevant pedagogy has been discussed and examined by numerous scholars. This collection of literature, which is quite substantial—and growing—offers detailed and rich insight into the relationship between the presence and instructional practices of teachers of color and positive outcomes for students of color (and their communities). For example, this body of work unpacks what culturally responsive pedagogy means in a variety of contexts. It also explicates the culturally relevant and meaningful ways in which teachers of color reach and meet the needs of students of color by integrating ways of knowing that are culturally grounded and connected to students’ sense of self and identity.
No doubt, the evidence substantiating the impact of teachers of color, whether they are working with students of color or White students, is still emerging. However, the argument can be made that diversity among teachers “is not only intrinsically valuable, but important for the symbolic messages it sends about teachers and education” (Zumwalt & Craig, 2008). As a diverse country, it simply makes ethical sense that our teachers are culturally, linguistically, and racially representative of our students, regardless of whether there is hard proof of extrinsic benefits.
Teacher Quality and the Recruitment of Diverse Teachers
Without a doubt, the issue of teacher quality is currently one of the most pressing priorities expressed by policy makers, the media, the public at large, and by educators. We are immersed in debates regarding what teachers should know and be able to do, the qualities and preparation teachers should have, where teacher preparation should take place (if at all), and what this preparation should include. Spurred by the emphasis of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) on quality teachers, a multitude of opinions have arisen about how teacher quality should be defined, opinions that are not only varied but often contradictory.
However, the many opinions, debates, and discussions aside, the policies prompted by NCLB legislation in the name of achieving teacher quality threaten to further worsen the shortage of teachers of color by creating barriers that disproportionately bar teachers of color from the profession. In particular is the increase in teacher tests upon which teacher certification relies. Data have consistently shown that these tests become impenetrable gates to the teaching profession for teachers of color who pass these tests at rates below their White counterparts (Gitomer, Latham & Ziomek, 1999).
We have already discussed several of the reasons why the recruitment and retention of teachers who are diverse is a challenge. Clearly, this enduring concern promises to be further exacerbated by a narrow—and legislated—definition of teacher quality, which is having a profound impact on who is allowed to teach and who is denied entry to the profession. Complicating matters further is the curious silence about “cultural competence and diversity as critical elements of a highly qualified teacher workforce” (National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force, 2004, p. 8), even while NCLB purports to ameliorate the achievement gap between White students and those “who are disadvantaged.” Thus, there is little incentive for states or districts to focus on teacher diversity, especially when faced with punishing sanctions if other priorities requirements set forth by NCLB laid out by NCLB are not met, such as increased literacy and math standardized test scores. Ironically, educators and school districts have no choice but to direct their energies and resources elsewhere at a time when we need diverse teachers more than ever.
Diversity among Teachers beyond Demographics
The majority of teachers in the United States are White, female, monolingual, and middle class (Rong & Preissle, 1997); only 13% of teachers identify themselves as people of color. Similarly, approximately 13% of students enrolled in teacher education programs are people of color (Hood & Parker, 1994). Despite numerous recruitment efforts, the proportion of teachers of color is unlikely to meet that of children of color, and the profession cannot rely on teachers of color to single-handedly support the development of children of color. Thus, achieving a diverse teaching force must also include—indeed, emphasize— preparing White teachers to work with children of color (and all children) in culturally responsive ways. For many reasons, this has not been an easy goal to reach.
First, many White students often enter teacher preparation with limited cross-cultural experience and, therefore, often hold stereotypical ideas about learners, particularly those different from themselves (Goodwin, 2002a; Sleeter, 2001). Second, many preservice teachers, regardless of race or ethnicity, display little confidence or knowledge when confronted by instances of racism and inequity (Goodwin, 1994,1997). Third, too many efforts by teacher education programs to incorporate multicultural practices or curricula have been ad hoc or have “celebrated” culture without attending to the structure and institutionalization of racism, oppression, and inequity (Sleeter, 2001).
Thus, while the literature is replete with calls for teacher education designed to prepare teachers who can work responsively and responsibly with children from diverse racial, socioeconomic, linguistic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, it becomes clear why progress toward this end remains slow. Howard (1999) says that teachers cannot teach what they do not know. The same can be said of teacher educators. Teacher education cannot truly become “part of larger movements for social change and demonstrate to others that social justice itself is a valid outcome and an essential purpose of multicultural teacher preparation” (Cochran-Smith, 2003, p. 9) if teacher educators are themselves monocultural, an issue that we turn to last.
A Teacher Education Professoriate That is Overwhelmingly White
Most teachers continue to receive their preparation from university-based programs where demographic data reveal that the percentage of teacher educators of color is equally as dismal as the percentage of teachers of color. The teacher education professoriate is dominated by European American men and women (Ladson-Billings, 2001); specifically, 88% are White, and 81% of these people are between 45 and 60 years old (Ladson-Billings, 2001). Thus, most teacher educators are quite distant from their own PreK-12 classroom experience and are not likely to have firsthand knowledge of teaching children of color, especially in urban schools. What we have then is a national phenomenon whereby a majority White and monolingual teaching force is being taught by a majority White and “culturally encapsulated” (Melnick & Zeichner, 1997, p. 23) teacher education force, even as the nation’s classrooms become more Black and Brown, immigrant, and non-English speaking.
While no assumptions should be made about the ability of a largely White professoriate to prepare teachers for diverse students, an examination of the state of teacher education indicates that there has been little change in practices, despite dramatic social changes. Instead, “the culture of teacher education has shown itself to be highly resistant to new ways of conceiving knowledge…and issues of race, class, culture, gender, and ecology will continue to be marginalized, while the teacher education curriculum is located in Eurocentric and androcentric knowledges and practices” (McWilliam cited in Ladson-Billings, 2001, p. 5).
A Final Word about Diversity within and among Teachers
We have always lived in a diverse world. The only difference now is that globalization has brought the world’s diversity into high definition; diversity is no longer “out there,” but right here. This means that none of us can ignore any longer the too many children who do not receive what they deserve, including a quality and caring education to help them develop into informed, thinking, moral, and empowered citizens. Undoubtedly, we need teachers who are diverse not just in how they look, where they come from, the language they speak, the histories they embody, but in how they think and interact with others, and embrace the world. Diversity in and among teachers is not simply a noun or a state of being: Diversity is a mind-set, a concept, and a way of thinking, perceiving, living, and teaching. It is a quality, characteristic, disposition, and perspective that all teachers, each person, must seek.
We are depending on all our children to take hold of our society and remake it with wisdom, compassion, love, and hope; to reimagine a good life that includes, rather than excludes; and to act in the interests of the common good. No doubt, this is a lofty goal, yet any alternative is surely untenable. Lofty or not, achieving it demands teachers who are ready to teach all, not some.