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As a fifth grade student in Clarksville, Tenn., a small city near Nashville, I constantly got in trouble. Just about every day, I came home with a pink slip. I didn’t always know what I’d done wrong. But I knew the pink slips weren’t good and that three of them added up to detention. That’s where I — one of only a few black students in my class — spent countless afternoons.

The teacher, who was white, told my mother that I moved around too much and finished assignments too quickly. The teacher said she didn’t understand me; she suggested I get tested for Attention Deficit Disorder.

My mother had a different interpretation. You were “a black student she couldn’t control,” she told me recently. “She wanted a reason for that.”

Alexandria Neason taught English language arts at Leilehua High School in Wahiawa, Hawaii from 2011-2013 through Teach for America. She graduated from the same school in 2006. (Photo: Annalise Miyashiro)

As the child of an Army officer, we moved around a lot. I attended seven different public schools in six states before leaving home for college. In all, I had just one black teacher: Mrs. Bishop, at MacArthur Elementary School in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. That year was my strongest academically. I’m convinced there was a reason for that.

Nationwide, we have a teacher diversity problem. This year, for the first time in our country’s history, a majority of public school students are children of color. But most teachers—82 percent in the 2011-2012 school year—are white. That figure hasn’t budged in almost a decade.

The knee-jerk response is to blame the minority teacher shortage on inadequate recruitment efforts. But key data suggests that we also have a largely unacknowledged and unaddressed problem with retention. In other words, our schools are churning and burning teachers of color at unconscionably high rates.

Richard Ingersoll, an education professor and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, says large-scale teacher recruitment campaigns that began in the 1980s succeeded in doubling the number of non-white teachers entering the profession. But disproportionately high turnover rates among teachers of color undermined much of that progress. Between 1988 and 2008, teachers of color were 24 percent more likely to leave teaching than their white counterparts, according to Ingersoll’s research. Some years, more minority teachers left the field than entered it.

And the problem is getting worse, particularly when it comes to movement between schools: The number of teachers of color who left their schools or the profession altogether jumped 28 percent between 1980 and 2009, according to Ingersoll. (The number who left the field altogether increased from six to nine percent over the same time period.)

There are several reasons minority teachers leave schools at disproportionately high rates. For one, minority teachers are more likely to work in high-poverty, low-performing schools where turnover rates are higher among teachers of all races and backgrounds. Working conditions in these schools can be more difficult given the challenge of teaching large populations of high-needs students with insufficient resources and chronic staff turnover. And many federal and local policies over the last two decades have aggravated these tensions — pushing out teachers and principals at “failing” schools or closing them outright, for instance. On top of that, teachers of color often feel isolated or stereotyped, particularly in schools where most of the other teachers are white or come from a different background.

Both of these forces were at play for former teacher Precious Esie when she started working in a New Orleans charter school in 2013. Esie, who is black and from Baton Rouge, hoped that as a first year teacher she would get a lot of support from her colleagues and school leaders at Einstein Charter School Extension. But she struggled from the outset. The school had no academic department meetings, and she was the school’s only seventh-grade math teacher.

Related: New Orleans schools should stop hiring so many teachers who dont understand the students backgrounds

“I had to design my own curriculum and I didn’t get much help,” she says.

Einstein had a few black teachers and a black principal, but Esie was the only black teacher who didn’t grow up in New Orleans.

Esie felt like the principal was harder on her because of her race. She says the principal told her, for instance, that her classroom management skills weren’t “black enough,” and pointed to another black teacher who was “sassy,” and “had the kind of attitude they were expecting I would have,” she said.

Not long after that critique, Esie was fired. Glendalyn Lewis, principal at Einstein Charter Extension, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Corinne Bridgewater, who taught in a New Orleans charter school during the 2013-14 school year, left partly because she felt isolated as one of only three black teachers at her school, which rigidly enforced countless rules. One day, for instance, a female student arrived at school wearing a bandana—a contraband item in the school’s uniform code—over her head. When the girl said she couldn’t remove it, Bridgewater immediately knew why: The teen had started removing her synthetic braids the night before—a time-consuming effort—and needed to cover her head until she could finish the process. Bridgewater felt frustrated working at a school where most teachers couldn’t make that connection, and therefore wouldn’t let the bandana slide.

White teachers, of course, are not incapable of connecting with students of color.

But a significant body of research suggests the benefits of a racially diverse teaching force are considerable. Several studies in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, for instance, found that teachers of color can boost the self worth of their minority students, partly by exposing them to professionals who look like them.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz says the lack of representation many kids of color experience can incite intense self-loathing and despair. “If you want to make a human being into a monster,” he said during a 2009 talk, “deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” He was talking about books, but the same rings true in classrooms. As a kid, I saw my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Bishop, for more hours a day than my own mother. She was my mirror. She gifted me an image of myself.

The benefits of keeping teachers of color in the classroom extend far beyond role models. Research has shown that students perform better academically, graduate at higher rates, and stay in school longer when they have teachers who come from the same backgrounds as they do. Esther Quintero, a senior policy fellow at the Albert Shanker Institute, a non-profit education think tank, says the disproportionately high suspension rates for black students could be alleviated by keeping more teachers of color in the classroom. White students stand to benefit, too: Early interactions with teachers of color can help dispel damaging stereotypes about different ethnic groups.

A diverse teaching staff can also challenge the thinking and assumptions of its members. When the second grade teachers at New Orleans’ Sylvanie Williams Elementary School settled on Cinderella as the main text for a fairy tale unit, Micaella Glenn, the only black teacher on the team, pushed them to incorporate non-European versions of the tale. The students also read Cendrillion (a version set on Martinique), Yeh-Shen (a Chinese version), and The Rough Face Girl (an Algonquin telling).

There are countless programs designed at drawing more minority teachers into public schools, but comparatively few focus on supporting them once they get there. A few promising new initiatives aim to counter this trend, however.

Related: The painful backlash against no excuses school discipline

In Illinois, where the school system’s teachers are among the least diverse in the country, lawmakers created a combined recruitment and retention program in 2005 that prioritizes teachers of color. Grow Your Own Teachers works with community organizations and colleges to help new teachers get certified, and then supports them with two years of mentorship and training once they’re hired. Eighty-five percent of participants are people of color.

The Boston Teacher Residency provides scores of teachers one-year apprenticeships with veteran teachers, and aims to fill half of their spots each year with people of color. This goal is particularly important in Boston, where a Center for American Progress report found the gap between black teachers and students in the city is so large—21 percent—that the district is in violation of a federal court order for teacher diversity.

And in New Orleans, where the proportion of teachers of color has steadily declined since charter schools began expanding after Hurricane Katrina, Teach for America has doubled down on not only attracting, but keeping young minority teachers in the classroom. This year, 46 percent of the New Orleans corps, and 50 percent nationally, identify as people of color. The region piloted the Louisiana Ties program, which tries to recruit more New Orleans natives and others with connections to the region – ties that often make them more likely to stay.

And The Collective, TFA’s national alumni association for teachers of color, has also played a crucial role in boosting the number of minority teachers who stay in the classroom. Started in 2011, the group functions as a social safety net: It strives to help combat the isolation that current and alumni minority teachers like Bridgewater sometimes feel — an isolation that can drive them out of the classroom. Members get mentoring and support from colleagues who have experienced similar challenges. The group has also helped TFA’s teachers of color build a public identity, which helps challenge the “messianic, white Ivy Leaguers” image often cited by the organization’s critics.

Related: Are teachers ready for the Common Core?

I know first-hand the challenges—and rewards—of working as a teacher of color. From 2011 to 2013, I was one of two black high school teachers at my alma mater in central O’ahu, Hawai’i, where I got a job through Teach for America. Most teachers and students at the school are from Asian and Pacific Islander/Polynesian backgrounds. When I was a student there from 2002 to 2006, none of my teachers was black.

I desperately wanted to give my black students something I had lacked during my own student experience: A role model who looked like them. I helped black and other students new to the islands understand, for example, that Pidgin, a creole language spoken in the Hawaiian Islands, is not “broken English,” as it is often described. I pointed to African American Vernacular English, a dialect spoken by some black people, as a similar example. And I defended my students who spoke in either vernacular when their peers and teachers complained about it.

I had conversations that I believe many non-black teachers would have shied away from. When a white ninth grade student called her friend the N-word in front of me, for instance, I did not let it pass unaddressed. Instead, we had an awkward but important conversation about the historic significance of the word.

But in the end, teaching couldn’t retain me. Like Bridgewater, I felt isolated as one of only two black teachers at the school. I did not have enough colleagues I felt comfortable turning to, for instance, for advice on how to broach the subject of Trayvon Martin’s killing with my students. But contentious contract negotiations – for 16 months we worked with no teachers’ contract in Hawai’i – and the uncertainty created by the Common Core and new teacher evaluation systems also heightened my anxiety.

I think often of my black students who, in many cases, will never have a teacher who looks like them. I think of the ways in which even other people of color might stereotype them. I think about a former, Polynesian student of mine, who was completely immersed in black hip-hop culture, yet seemed worried she would offend me by saying my race out loud during a class discussion on immigration and ethnic backgrounds. I saw one of America’s great failures—an inability to teach its children how to talk about race—materialize in the shame on her face as she struggled to say out loud what and who I am.

I also think about the teachers who replaced me. I wonder how long they’ll last, particularly the teachers of color. More than anything else, I worry about what will become of the kids caught in the shuffle.

Alexandria Neason is a fellow for The Teacher Project, an education reporting initiative at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism dedicated to covering the issues facing America’s teachers.

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Alexandria Neason is a recent graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She has contributed to Chalkbeat New York, WAMU’s Metro Connection, National Public Radio’s Ombudsman...

Letters to the Editor

41 Letters

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  1. I am Vietnamese, 12 when I left. Went to school in Texarkana Texas and San Diego, most teachers were white, some were black and brown. No issues with any of my teachers. Did my homework have decent grade did not have a Vietnamese teacher or TA or even an Asian teacher. Never have any issue although I did get in trouble for fighting…I guess beating the crap out of my bullies on different occasions will do that.

    I am no racist. I look up to Mr. Juel and Mrs. Leuth, my two favorite teachers, they also happen to be white. I don’t need a Vietnamese role model so I don’t understand the need for diversity of skin color or culture.

    You are in school to learn academically and in my case also athletically in Badminton and Tennis.

    If you need a role model of your own skin color, perhaps the racist is the one you see in the mirror each morning.

    It is always the blacks and the browns crying racism while getting all the benefit of affirmative action. Whites are to blame but some are qualified who are bypassed at college admission and public service jobs to make room for less qualified blacks and brown.

    If this works at all why does the problem still exists after decades of this social engineering?

    I don’t have the answers to the problems I just know that diversity of skin color only creates more problems and create further divide.

  2. As a white teacher in an urban school, I find this article appalling . It’s funny that this particular author believes that I am somehow doing my children a disservice by existing as a white person. My students do not care that I am white. I have only ever had one student in three years even acknowledge it out loud. The little girls tend to glue to me because I am a younger woman and they look up to me as a guiding female figure. No, I do not let them get away with writing “I be going” or “She crazy” or “I ain’t got none” on their papers. That’s ridiculous. My coworker is from the caribbean and she said that all the kids who moved to the US learned American English and had no issue working around Pigdin. You will never get a job speaking “African american vernacular english” unless you stay in a mostly-black community. Many of my small-town friends have a dialect and say “ain’t” but they have to fix the way they talk as well. This obsession with black children having black teachers screams segregation to me. Poverty and a culture of violence stand in my students’ way a heck of a lot more than me being white.

  3. Even though my skin color is “brown”, I’ve inculcated middle class values through my upbringing as a USAF brat. I teach public school, in Northern California. This is my 29th year as a school teacher. In my opinion, it’s not about giving folks a “free pass” with regard to behavioral issues. I tend to be firm and patient, and this tends to suit my students and me quite well. Even when I was working in a juvenile detention facility (two jobs at the same time), my “firm/patient” strategy snuffed out several potential confrontations between inmates, and between inmates and staff.

  4. Let’s not forget that the shortage of teachers of color reflects a much larger shortage of teachers in general. I’ve been teaching in public schools since the mid nineties. People of all races are getting burned out on teaching or not even considering teaching as a career option. I’m sure (and have seen) that the anecdotes in this article are absolutely true, that teachers of color are isolated and mistreated. But I think that teaching used to be seen as a solid job that meant stable, middle-class life, something like the American dream in an era before many opportunities in other arenas were as available to minorities as they are now. Now, some of those other options are on the table, _and_ teaching has become the kind of job that garners neither respect nor a comfortable nest-egg. It’s simply not an appealing option for the coming generation, certainly not for the best and brightest, in the way it used to be.

  5. The issue is the continued focus on race in society, including by this author. Does a blonde student identify with a blonde teacher? If we have a society that continually categorizes people based on race, then this is what we expect. Mediocrity is just around the corner for the U.S.

  6. When I was growing up, black people didn’t call each other the “N-word”. In today’s society, with them using the term freely in conversation and music, you cannot fault a youth for saying something they have no idea is inappropriate because the rest say it all the time. With Trayvon Martin, if you’re not going to discuss the facts… It is best that you shut-up, or, all you’re going to do is cause more harm than good. As for not having teachers who are their race… Big deal. I’m white and almost all of my teachers were black. I never had a problem with it… They were and have remained my favorite teachers from grade school thru high school.

  7. When I was a student there from 2002 to 2006, none of my teachers was black.

    Perhaps the above sentence explains part of the problem.

  8. As a former teacher, counselor and administrator I now recruit high school students for the Indiana University School of Ed. I am the only recruiter for the whole state who gets off campus. I attempt to recruit as many students of color and Hispanic heritage students as possible. It’s no walk in the park. The financial resources for the talent is just not there as is university admissions who elects not to allow specific schools within the university to be part of their school visits. I have schools begging for minority teacher candidates. I’m not sure what the answer is….

  9. Another article on education from some safe have ivory tower. It quickly glosses over the fact that teacher turnover is very high in high poverty schools. Teachers leave those schools. Why? Because the problems are incredible, and the blame is always the same: it’s the teacher’s fault. You know why it’s the teacher’s fault this time? Because the teachers are white and they don’t understand their students. Last time it was something else. But until we introduce student accountability into secondary education, nothing will change. We’ll just keep blaming the teacher.

  10. Anyone else get the feeling that the unspoken message of this article is that of one encouraging segregation…?

    “I was a black student and I couldn’t succeed unless I had a black teacher.”

    “Black teachers are more likely to quit because they feel isolated when they’re surrounded by white coworkers.”

    “Black students are more likely to succeed and be self confident when they’re taught by someone that looks like them.”

    ….So am I to understand that the blacks want to be grouped together in all black schools then? Since the teachers are uncomfortable around whites and the students are unable to succeed and be confident unless they have a black teacher? Didn’t we have marches and protest to end that very practice of segregation….? This article seems a bit fucked up.

  11. Do white children learn better from white teachers? Do Asian children learn better from Asian teachers? Seems like if we follow the “black children must have a black teacher” argument to its logical conclusion we are actually segregating people! Additionally, I have seen some of the “research” that purports to show that black students learn more with a black teacher and as a 27-year classroom math teacher , who is white and who has taught only at majority non-white schools in Houston, I believe that ALL children learn more from GOOD teachers regardless of the race match between student and teacher. It is difficult to isolate race in a study and not confound it with many other factors that have an effect on student achievement so rather than focus on race matching, why don’t education professionals of all races work together to improve teacher quality, working conditions and retention for teachers of all races everywhere.

  12. Easy because if a person of color gets educated they go into a profession that makes money not teaching. Only whites with they must save the world attitudes teach.

  13. This issue is also about the areas of concern we all ignore. One, where are the black organizations dedicating resources, funds and time to making sure there is a qualified and talent pool of African-American educators? This goes to the Jesse Jackson attack Silicon Valley for not hiring enough blacks issues as well. We must nurture and develop them in our communities. That’s one side of the coin. The other, we do have a serious behavior problem in American schools…period. Most won’t acknowledge this fact and throw it off as anecdotal. Your situation with a white teacher, ok, not good. Yet, many of the same highly qualified African-American teachers get burned out quickly dealing with our youth who are extremely in-civil, violent and verbally abusive to each other and to teachers. Want to test my theory? Take a hidden camera into our classroom for a week then get back with me. But I’m not pointing that finger at just black youth. Forget that. White, Asian, Middle-Eastern…serious issues that are swept under the rug. Let’s not be apologists for each other.

  14. What are the black and brown college graduation rates? High School Graduation rates? ….and you are wondering why the number of minority teachers is down.

  15. I live in Florida – our schools full of black and brown teachers who have been in the system for 10 plus years. Since most new teachers leave before 5 years, regardless of color or ethnicity, I feel this report is bogus, creating a problem where none exists.

  16. “That’s where I — one of only a few black students at the school — spent countless afternoons.”

    Unless the author attended school in Clarksville, TN in the early 1900s, this is a questionable statement. And given the dates and pictures, I would say she was there in the early 2000’s. Even when I was in that area of the country (1980’s), the schools had a very diverse student body, perhaps due to the military base. When I was there, the student body was very close to 50/50 mix – which is highly unusual given the minority status of “people of color”.

    That said, I can certainly agree that having someone who ‘looks like you’ teaching would tend to help students learn better. So why the complaint about new teachers of color being assigned areas where the majority of the student body is going to look like them?

  17. in order for white supremacy to work you absolutely have to have white people as teachers of Black kids so they can continue with the lies and deceptions that have been going on sine the late 18oo’s. the cannot take the chance that a Black teacher might provide truth about their heritage and culture, plus treat Black students humanely. so the system under pays Black teacher and treats them like dirt or worse so these Black teachers either leave or when they attempt to fight against this oppression the eventually get fired and replaced by another white teacher mostly female white teachers who claim that they are genuinely concerned about Black students, which is just a bunch of BSD.

  18. And a white teacher was fired for doing exactly what you claimed to have done: “I had conversations that I believe many non-black teachers would have shied away from. When a white ninth grade student called her friend the N-word in front of me, for instance, I did not let it pass unaddressed. Instead, we had an awkward but important conversation about the historic significance of the word.”….. The school system and courts upheld that he used racial words to a black student.

    As far as why are there not more Black or Brown teachers, should be very easy to understand. They are not applying for those jobs. that is their choice, so please don’t try to make something out of nothing.

    As for this comment: “There are several reasons minority teachers leave schools at disproportionately high rates. For one, minority teachers are more likely to work in high-poverty, low-performing schools where turnover rates are higher among teachers of all races and backgrounds. ” ……………………. Although I do not agree, and believe they just could not handle the demands of a teacher, how do you explain all the white teachers assigned there? If a school is that bad, then why are the teachers not telling the school board? Not insisting of higher standards of behavior – no, they choose to tolerate these students mis-behavior, which in turn, means students are not getting the education they need because of disruptive students, instead of demanding parents come and take their child home or call the police. Your own statement: “My mother had a different interpretation. You stated you moved around to much and your mother claims you were “a black student she couldn’t control,” she told me recently.”.. can be thrown right back at you – ….are you trying to imply that all these disruptive students in these schools are justified for acting up in class if they finished their assignments, and make it impossible for other students to pay attention.

  19. I am a LICSW/LCSW and am counseling a woman who was determine to become a teacher. she completed her teaching internship but will not teach in the schools. the amount of work preparing(lesson plans) and taking home huge amounts of papers to correct has discouraged her.

  20. Ms. Neason explicitly recognizes a place for white teachers to learn to connect with students of color. She is in no way guilty of reverse racism here. Her challenge to a troubled system will make many uncomfortable. Saying we need more teachers of color is an indictment of the system, not of teachers who put in the effort to learn how to teach ALL their students well. The testing regime of No Child Left Behind raised the stakes without providing adequate training and support to school districts to address these issues.
    Could we hear more about specific successful efforts to hire, train, and keep good teachers of color? What does it take?

  21. This is a good article because it at least sheds light on education and how it can be improved. I currently am an adult attending a local community college. And some of the same problems occur at the “higher” education” level. The solution is not simple but it is not complicated either. Learning is about gaining knowledge and how to apply it and hopefully showing you other ways of thinking and doing things. That is the only way innovation occurs.
    I have noticed that teachers may come from a particular ethnic background and their strengths often are in their ability to connect with and relate to the student. That includes trying to tie what is being taught with the backgrounds, needs, and interests of the student. However, sometimes this same teacher, while very good at relating, may not have all the more technical skills, like mastery or a greater understanding of the subject being taught.
    On the other hand, a teacher may have more technical mastery over the subject matter but not possess strong “teaching” skills or method awareness. Worst, they treat students like they are not adults or have any background or experience to tap into.
    But mostly I have noticed that, some teachers lack interpersonal skills; for example, they are unfamiliar with the cultural backgrounds of the students they teach; sometimes that crosses the line into racism or viewing and treating the students as stereotypes, with the worst ideas about a respective culture; or they may impose their particular cultural backgrounds as “superior” to the student’s.
    If given a choice I would prefer that the teacher possess both technical and interpersonal, skills, with a respect for the backgrounds of the students that are being taught. That may involve more cultural awareness, sensitivity training of the teacher. Hiring more teachers from diverse backgrounds can also help. Overall, more accountability and monitoring of teacher performance will help ensure that the teacher is on track and is getting the guidance and training he or she may need to better train/teach the students they are working with.

  22. I am a retired teacher of English, choir, drama, and music K-12, having taught in 5 states and overseas. I sub now. I have never cared if the student is purple with polka-dots. I HAVE cared if the student and his/her family thinks learning is important. When the student quits working/learning because his or her peers think he or she is acting “too white” or because he or she needs to be part of a gang to feel safe, or because there seem to be no jobs at the end of the road, the situation can rarely be saved in today’s overcrowded schools. Students of all colors fall into the above traps, or into the trap of having to babysit younger children instead of concentrating on their own future. Frankly, while I know racism still exists, I am tired of its being used as an excuse for students’ failure to learn, or students’ need to disrupt others.

  23. when none quantifies a singular or mass noun, only singular agreement is acceptable
    when none quantifies a plural noun, both singular and plural agreements are acceptable.
    when none doesn’t quantify anything, both agreements are acceptable.

  24. I’m sorry that the author had a miserable teaching experience, but I’m not surprised. Perhaps I can put some of it into perspective. I’m a white, native of New Orleans, who’s been teaching in the public school system over 20 years. (In many instances I was the minority on the faculty!) I fully support diversity in my profession – if the students and staff are exposed to people of diverse backgrounds and cultures, ALL benefit and some of these stupid stereotypes will finally reach extinction!!

    In the 1990’s Teach For America came to our area. They were a corps of enthusiastic youth who were here to help out in areas of need or teacher shortage. They didn’t get a lot of training (a TFA boot camp of sorts for a few weeks), but they were paired with an experienced teacher and had a mentor to monitor and help out. My TFA partner worked hard. He may not have done everything according to my methods classes, but he made an impression on our kids. He shared with them things I couldn’t. I’ll never forget the look on the volunteer docent’s face at the New Orleans Museum of Art when one of the 4th grade students asked if they had anything “from Picasso’s blue period!” That year was a cultural exchange for our students and the TFA teacher.

    The experience for the young teacher and our students was positive. When that TFA teacher returned home, he understood the challenges facing students, teachers, families, and our community in an urban setting. He was an advocate for schools in general and public schools in particular. This was not an isolated incident. Another young TFA teacher I worked with had always dreamed of being a lawyer. Her time in the classroom encouraged her to change her specialization to education law and to become a child advocate when she returned home.

    Everything has changed, especially in the Post-Katrina setting. There was NO SHORTAGE of teachers after the storm. Many of my colleagues returned to the city. IF they were rehired, they taught by day, and gutted/repaired their homes by night – all while cramming their families into toxic trailers. TFA teachers were brought in and hired in place of trained, experienced, and certified teachers. This was not exactly popular among returnees. The TFA teachers were NOT paired with mentor teachers – in fact, many schools were entirely staffed by new teachers and TFA teachers. They had NO support and many “burned out.”

    For these young people, it was a culture shock and a negative experience. Many of these TFA teachers now return home with a dislike of the south in general, and our students and residents in particular. Their experience has confirmed the stereotype of the “ignorant” southerners who are somewhat “lesser” in all aspects than their northern counterparts. TFA “builds leaders.” After 2 years, few remain as classroom teachers. The idea of remaining in a classroom as a career is looked down upon.

  25. As a white educator of 42 years, I not only struggle with the author’s opinion but that of a few others. I spent most of my teaching career in a majority black school district. My daughter attended school as one of few white children. I LOVE teaching but found that race rarely entered the picture as long as respect was valued in the classroom. Our students of all colors deserve to be treated fairly, valued, and respected. The benefits of modeling these attributes can not be argued and opens a successful line of communication between any teacher and student.
    Where does the responsibility of parents enter the picture? Parents can play a big part in encouraging their children to succeed in a profession as well as in school. I believe we have a societal issue that needs to be addressed. ALL kids need to be encouraged to behave in school, participate in class, and do homework. Many parents struggle addressing these issues and as a result teachers elect to go a different career path. Most students select a career that is of some interest to them and in a setting where they have been successful. Perhaps it is time that teachers and parents look beyond color to educate America’s children?

  26. More wisdom about who should be teaching from someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t keep teaching. Spare me. And how embarrassing that the students in the back of the photo are completely off-task. Yeow.

  27. I am always leery of people who proclaim they “are not racist” and use terms like social engineering. Especially people who are immigrants who came AFTER the modern civil rights era hit its nadir. To the immigrant Asian who could not come into this country and who were referred to by whites as”gooks”, I simply say read your American history books. You might learn something.

  28. I really don’t think people should be offended by this article. This is a systemic problem that stems from a flawed education system and a biased curriculum. We have to accept that meritocracy is a myth. We have to accept that white privilege exists and that the color of ones skin has a major impact on ones quality of life. What initially appears to scream segregation closely resembles the closest thing to social justice in our educational system. Check out this article on Canada’s first Africentric high school where students are thriving. Similar results have been shown in Elementary schools with similar programs in progressive cities like Toronto. I encourage you to read this article and link to the clip below. I think America needs to wake up and stop dreaming- accept your history and reality.

    http://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2014/02/26/africentric_high_school_students_thrive_in_pioneering_program.html

  29. As a former student of 15+ years (to include college), I feel like I have some authority on this subject. I also willingly omit my race from this comment to prove a point.

    I’ve had teachers of many ethnicities. I never saw their color because they never used it as a means to identify with students. They simply taught material with the same passion and emotion that ALL humans contain.

    There was never a level of education in which one educated teacher spoke differently than the next. They all spoke with respect, to each other and to the students.

    As a student, I never had to worry about my teachers and their personal issues. Lord knows they had them, they just didn’t use their role as a stepping stone for something more sinister, more selfish.

    Every single teacher I’ve ever studied under, every single teacher I have ever encountered on campus, at clubs, in the halls, or on the street — all of them were decent, hard working people who cared about the next generation.

    THAT is what makes a quality teacher. Nothing else.

  30. I agree with several other commentators. This article seems to be arguing for segregation in schools. The idea that students can only learn from someone of the same color/race is ignorant at the very core. I hesitated to even respond to such drivel but thought it should not get a pass. This type of “research” is pure garbage. It amounts to saying the more ice cream people eat the more people drown. Sure, there are statistics that show a correlation between the two but correlation does not equal causation. This author is drawing conclusions that are in no way supported by research. If this were a dissertation it would FAIL.

  31. “Teachers of color often feel isolated or stereotyped, particularly in schools where most of the other teachers are white or come from a different background.” So true, but with lots of prayers and strong faith in The Lord the impossible will become possible.
    “God does not call those who are equipped, He equips those whom He has called.” – Sam Wigglesworth – from TriciaGoyer.com. “

  32. Although one might have reservations about the author’s perspective, the dialog she provoked is priceless. A trainer of teachers, I’m thinking about how I might use this dialog to develop assignments that might help my trainees more deftly confront issues that arise with their students and colleagues. If nothing else, the dialog points to the need for evidence-based systems for selecting the right teachers the first time and then inducting them properly during their first 2-3 years. Other professions do this routinely – e.g. medicine, law, engineering –recognizing that hiring is only the first step in producing a high quality employee.
    Unfortunately, the dialog doesn’t mention the potential of team-taught programs to produce effective communication among teachers from diverse backgrounds. In such programs teachers can observe and critique one another, modify or create lessons that truly engage students and solve problems that require cross-disciplinary expertise. Most professions outside of education have had to do this to survive in the marketplace. Yet teachers today tend to function as they have for almost the entire existence of formal education – as sole practitioners in the one teacher for one class format.
    The vast majority of teachers indicate their hunger for collaborating with colleagues. If the teacher contract even provides for this, they mostly have to do this after school when exhausted or on special training days when the students are off. What would it look like if teachers of different disciplines could collaborate in real time when students are present? Following are links to articles that describe such a team-taught, computer-assisted program with cross-disciplinary lessons and projects:
    http://educationviews.org/fast-break-accelerated-learning-framework-for-21st-century-high-schools/
    http://educationviews.org/fast-break-a-program-to-get-ready-for-the-season/
    http://www.educationviews.org/program-handle-crisis-competence/
    Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to this fascinating dialog.

  33. I see a lot of defensive comments here.

    In my experience, and in my teacher prep studies I’ve seen AND read of teachers with backgrounds different from the ethnic, socioeconomic, religious etc. identities of their students experience difficulties in some instances really understanding their students. This isn’t solely a white/black thing or a rich/poor thing– its a human thing. If I see my Filipina student withdrawn from group conversations I may attribute this to her not making an effort or being lazy if I didn’t understand common Filipino cultural standards towards group cohesiveness. If I encountered two Hispanic male students loudly insulting each other in the hallway I may immediately react towards disciplinary actions instead of recognizing possibly friendly communication– just in a style I’m not familiar with.

    In these two cases, being of a different identity than my students ellicited behavior that may not be benefitial for my students. By not knowing my students backgrounds I may be more inclined to have lower expectations or have higher unncessary disciplinary interventions (just as examples). This is an unintentional result of life. Now it is not feasible for teachers to learn everything about possible identity out there but I think if teachers understand and accept that they may not understand their students on a deep level, this can drive teachers to seek out instances where their ‘unknowingness’ may be effecting students in their classroom. I don’t think you need to have the same identity to connect with students, but I do think you need to have the motivation to try to understand your students and accept that the difference between you two may cause issues for you as a teacher and them as a student.

    Being of the same race is super helpful for this. Now for having role models, I think we have to accept the reality that people of color do not have as many visible role models in OUT there. I mean if in 2014 we are having our first, _______ female congresswoman etc, this is evidence to this. I think having role models in the classroom is always a great thing. Being a black female engineering student I would have loved to have a teacher that looked like me with my interest so I could connect with her and understand her journey. Again, its just in accepting that different people will have different experiences. Not to say that this wont happen with a teacher of a different ethnic identity, but its so much easier for students to see someone who looks like them and assume their life has similarities to theirs– and for maturing students, that is really important for them.

  34. While I support almost all you say there will always be disproportionate ratios of black and white students so what colour of teacher do you get in to understand them all? I also think it is more of a culture thing than purely colour. In the UK it is more poor versus middle-class versus upper-class (a three-way split as all have huge differences and money is the common denominator). There are probably more poor black-only areas in US compared to UK hence your problem seems to have a more obvious base to start from.

    Education is a life-long experience and there needs to be more regular meetings of staff to instil the school culture then it can be exposed where it is failing.

    I know from experience that US schools suffer, in my opinion, from the interference of local authorities who vote for funds as they are often clueless to the fact that education is not about making or even saving money but it is undeniable that if funding is denied then there will be no return at all in the future

    Good luck

  35. How do you think it would be received if a mom requested that her white child be removed from a class because the teacher was black? Not well, I’d wager. Why isn’t it equally racist the other way around?

  36. First of all, I applaud Alexandria Neason for having the courage to write such an excellent article. I am sorry that you were pushed out of the teaching profession. I hope you consider returning. We desperately need teachers like you.

    As the founder of the California Alliance of African American Educators (CAAAE), I am the product of all White teachers from K-12 so I know that they can do a great job of teaching students like me. However, I am appalled by the ignorance and vitriol in some of these comments by so-called educated people. I wish that all children of color had the benefit of caring teachers like I had and that it had never been necessary for me to even start the CAAAE to ensure equitable educational opportunities for Black students. To bury your heads in the sand and pretend as though a lack of diversity in the teaching force has not contributed to the persistent gap in academic achievement of Black and Brown students is shameful.

    I am especially appalled by Quan Q. Pham’s perpetuation of the myth that Blacks and Browns were the only beneficiaries of affirmative action. It was actually White women who benefited the most and the job that Pham has now is probably due to the fact that her employer saw the value of diverse workers.

    If Pham had grown up Black in this country with the violence of enslavement in your DNA, perhaps you would not make such callous statements. On second thought, you might just be a provocateur like those who destroyed buildings when people of all races were attempting to hold peaceful protests after the travesty of two grand jury decisions.

    I am glad that I know many enlightened White educators who acknowledge White privilege and are using their positions of power to advocate for a more just society where everyone’s talents are welcomed and celebrated, especially in America’s classrooms.

    For those of you still living in the Dark Ages, please view the powerful PBS series entitled “Race: The Power of an Illusion” before you post any more insensitive comments!

  37. To Debra Watkins: People don’t “grow up with the violence of enslavement in their DNA.” It’s an attitude learned from the people around them. I guarantee you that when Pham came over at the age of 12, she was extremely poor and was made fun of every day by people of other races, yet she persisted. As a Chinese-American man, born and raised in Brooklyn, I was consistently harassed and teased by Black students and even adults for being Chinese. I heard all sorts of racial slurs. I had NO Asian teachers. Yet, I succeeded, graduated, and am now a teacher myself. I am tired of this sense of entitlement–I see it every day. “People aren’t doing enough for us. People need to do more for us.” It starts in the home: children need to be taught good family values, to work hard and not give up, and that each man or woman can control his or her own destiny. If you stop blaming the world for your problems, you will be amazed at the things you can achieve.

  38. So disheartening that some of the people who responded are totally missing the point in my opininion. Unfortunately it is white privilege that blinds some of you. There is a disconnect between what the author is saying and what some of the comments are saying. I am a college educated person of color raised with middle class values and standards and I have a 7 year old son who is smart, creative, and has been read to since he was in my womb. I can relate to this article because have a 7 year old son in public school. The author is saying is that children of color particularly from poverty, have a better since of self-worth when they are educated by people who care about them and look like them I do not understand why some cant take the time to think deeply instead of being defensive. Its not about segregation, America has already found a way to keep segregation alive and well by race, class, labels, etc… Until teachers get a better and deeper understanding of their students, children of color will continue to fall behind. Its no secret that this is a country built on segregation and racism….its really scary that many reasonable minded teachers and professionals do not see this. FYI the civil rights march of the 1960’s was not only to end segregation but to make life fair for African Americans education fair and equal and sadly its not.

  39. First, a very wise woman once told me that, it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the seats, cultural competency is essential. So, we cannot view retention of teachers of color strictly in terms of them serving students of color. All students benefit from a diverse teacher pool in their school. I am a teacher of color. When I have started at a new school, I am almost always mistaken for a para professional or cafeteria worker. It is very isolating, even when the other staff are welcoming. The reason is that there are always a few coworkers who assume I am unqualified and will take it upon themselves to provide me with the most basic of suggestions and who even march into my classroom with unsolicited advice, something they would never do to a Caucasian teacher. Team meetings are the place for professional conversations about students and achievement. But, even here, teachers of color are dismissed. The hardest thing is that there is no one with whom we can discuss the subtle racism that exists, because others do not see it and we are labeled overly sensitive and our comments irrelevant. The teachers of color understand that it is often their culture, rather than their color, that is not accepted. Our way of relating to parents and students often comes from a more community model and we are more apt to consider the whole child. That is a strength, but often seen as a deficiency. At the school I work at, there are definite lines of division. As a school who insists that children be treated with respect, and rightly so, the same is not required for paraprofessionals, custodians, etc. They are often spoken to in a condescending manner and it disturbs me that this is modeled to children. I insist that all adults in my room be treated respectfully and that has caused some problems. In the District I am at, affluent parents of Special Education students need only snap their fingers and their will is done. It is cheaper to give in than go to court. However, les affluent, less educated parents are dismissed and sometimes bullied, even when their request is reasonable. Teachers of color are grouped in the same way. Until that changes, minority children will continue to lag and teachers of color will continue to quit.

  40. Quahn: Your comments are interesting, and I ask you to consider this: There is a different perspective among those who came to the US for a better way of life and those who were seen as standing in the way of that better life, back in our history. African Americans came as slaves, Indians were violently removed and Hispanics also were treated horribly. By the time you came to the US, there were programs to help you succeed. Even today, those fleeing from atrocities in their home country are given assistance that goes beyond what is available to other citizens. Good for you and I am sure you worked very hard. But, how would you have felt if you had worked equally hard for 1/4 of the outcome?

  41. I get it! WE NEED MORE REPRESENTATION OF BLACKS IN OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM! Let’s not close our eyes to what’s lurking around in society. When my kids come home and report they have a Black teacher or a Black assistant principal, they are excited to see a professional that looks like them. Do they respect ALL their teachers/administrators (Black/white/pink/yellow)? Absolutely! I wouldn’t have it any other way! I have taught them to be respectful to everyone. However, it is much less intimidating for a Black teacher/administrator to approach a Black student and discuss the racial issues that are rampant in our society these days. It is not easy for a White teacher to address these racial issues in the class. The truth is, no teacher Black or White would feel comfortable discussing the racial issues at hand; however, I know that Black students will feel more comfortable discussing an issue like that with me, because honestly I feel the pain of a mothers whose Black sons were killed because of the color of his skin (past or present). We cannot ignore statistics! As an adult, I cannot ignore that 99% of my teaching staff is White, and I’m major minority (oxymoron intended). Many will ask, why are they there? Can’t you find another school? I’m here the for the handful of Black students to see that they, too, can be successful, amidst all the racism that exist. Let’s be part of the solution and encourage our students to be successful, especially when they are Black and we KNOW disparity exists in every corner of America. It is what it is…. so, let’s be role models or find role models who can help our students succeed. Invite guest speakers who are successful in society and look like your students, so that they can see success in action! IT DOES MATTER!
    Barry, thank you for sharing the link.

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