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I became a teacher because of the influence and mentorship of Mr. Murray and Mr. Simms, two elementary-school teachers in Detroit.

They were excellent and ensured that I engaged in learning every day. They persevered when at first I did not understand a concept, and they had stern but caring dispositions. Mr. Murray and Mr. Simms took an interest in who I was as a student. They also looked like me: They were black men.

Seeing a diverse teaching force at the helm of the classroom showed me that teaching was a viable career for a black student in Detroit, and they inspired me to follow my dream of becoming a teacher.

Today, more than half of K-12 students in the United States are students of color, yet four out of five teachers are white. More than 75 percent of teachers are women. Having a diverse teaching force isn’t a “nice-to-have”: It’s integral to the success of all students, and especially students of color and students like me.

We have a diversity problem across our teaching force, and we must do more to ensure that people of color can see themselves as teachers and are welcomed into the teaching profession. We must implement policies and supports so all teachers can stay in the classroom throughout their careers.

Related: Two percent of teachers are black men. A city is trying to recruit more.

That’s why I joined Educators for Excellence and fellow educators from around the country last week at Reimagine, Represent: Strengthening Education through Diversity to make policy recommendations to federal legislators. We must better prepare, recruit and retain a diverse set of teachers. Among the policy recommendations, we must:

Prepare all teachers for the classroom with an emphasis on how to support every student academically and social-emotionally. The majority of teachers of color join the teaching force through alternative preparation programs, but we need to make traditional teacher-preparation programs — in which 84 percent of students are white — more accessible to people of color. This will mean more people of color creating a diverse teaching force and, critically, more diverse perspectives and thought in these programs.

Related: More black and Hispanic science teachers could mean more scientists of color

For my own education, I opted for a traditional teacher-preparation program at Michigan State University, which focused on urban education and how to teach students who live in concentrated poverty. It was the right program for preparing me to teach in Chicago. In fact, I’ve written about my educational path in The Hechinger Report, and the crushing financial reality of my decision to pursue a career as an educator.

Pay teachers more. Teacher salaries are insufficient to keep many teachers in the classroom, and most systems don’t reward teachers for taking on the most challenging jobs, teaching hard-to-staff subject areas (special education, science and math) or in hard-to-staff schools, serving our most vulnerable students, such as students from low-income households and English learners.

[pullquote author=”” description=”” style=”new-pullquote”]”I see my students as the next generation of leaders and professionals in America, a generation that more accurately reflects America’s diversity.”[/pullquote]

As a teacher in my fifth year with outstanding student loans, I view staying in the teaching profession as both fulfilling my calling and a financial choice I make each year. I am dedicated to my students and my school, and I plan to continue teaching. But not all teachers and potential teachers can afford to make such choices. To fill every classroom with an effective teacher and to close the gap on the 40 percent of U.S. schools that don’t employ a single teacher of color, we must make the profession more attractive. Simply put: Pay teachers more.

Address bias. Schools must look at their hiring and retention practices to ensure that teachers of color are welcomed into and supported within schools. All staff should receive anti-bias training so that both teachers and students feel welcomed in school every day.

These are the policies that I, alongside hundreds of supporters and 12 national organizations, endorse for the future of the teaching profession.

Back in my classroom, I see my students as the next generation of leaders and professionals in America, a generation that more accurately reflects America’s diversity.

We must have policies and supports in place to ensure that students’ educational experiences reflect our nation’s diversity, both now and in the future.

This story about the diversity of the U.S. teaching force was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for our newsletter.

Devin Evans is a 10th-grade English Language Arts teacher at Butler College Prep on Chicago’s far South Side. He graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in social science education and history, and he is a member of Educators for Excellence.

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