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Diversifying Teachers and Teacher Educators: A U.S. Imperative

While the majority of U.S. K-12 students are children of color, only 20% of teachers are people of color — and 40% of the nation’s public schools do not have a single teacher of color on record. Despite a now decades old, nationwide effort to diversify the teaching profession, there is obviously still much work to be done. Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) hold great promise towards the goal of bringing more teachers of color to the profession. They also provide teacher candidates opportunities to do their student teaching in schools and communities that are racially diverse. Of importance, these teacher candidates share a common interest in remaining in multicultural and high-needs schools after getting certified.

A related, but significantly less prominent issue, concerns the diversity of teacher educators. Across higher education, 75% of professors are White and teacher educators are over 76% White, demonstrating that many teacher candidates will not have a single professor of color as they make the transition through their teacher preparation programs. This challenge has huge ramifications for what happens in teacher education programs, including how candidates are recruited, how the curriculum is designed, and how urgently a program works to address critical issues of race and equity. Moreover, as Galman, Pica-Smith, and Rosenberger note: “It’s important that teacher educators have examined their own  implicit biases before asking preservice teachers to engage with [them].”

To be clear: We are not arguing that White teacher educators cannot adequately prepare racially diverse teacher candidates to be high-quality teachers who are effective in schools that are predominantly comprised of students of color, or that they are not concerned with social justice. It is critically important, however, that teacher educators do not tokenize multicultural education as a specialty or add-on, and that they are proficient in integrating anti-racist culturally relevant pedagogy across their curriculum. This approach is much more likely to happen if teacher educators have personally experienced racism in their own education, as discrimination is no longer just theoretical to them. 

We recently sat down with teacher educators at MSIs, where they shared how they were discouraged from continuing in higher education because English was not their first language, because their parents were migrants who had very little formal education, because they were told they were more likely to end up in jail than in college, because they could not afford the cost of books and testing fees, because they lived on reservations and did not assimilate easily into Western culture, and/or because they didn’t fit the Asian American “model minority” stereotype. These individuals not only beat the odds by graduating from college, but they completed graduate school and become professors to educate the next generation of teachers. 

When we visited New Mexico State University — a Hispanic Serving Institution — we spoke with Tulia, director of elementary education, and the fifth generation in her family to be born and raised in Las Cruces. Even though she grew up speaking Spanish at home, it was not safe at school, Tulia expressed. It automatically signified to her teachers that she was not a smart or capable student, contingent on years of discrimination against English Language Learners in her community. In high school she never thought of going to college, barely passing many of her courses. After being accepted to college the first time, she flunked out. Upon returning to a much more diverse faculty, she started taking early childhood education classes and realized her passion and interest. After working in local schools for two years, she returned to education and received her master’s degree with a bilingual endorsement. With the support of a fellowship to pursue her doctorate, Tulia eventually became a faculty member. According to Tulia: “I think everybody should know second language acquisition and how to work with English learners.” She is committed to ensuring that one day all students will have culturally and linguistically responsive teachers.

Similarly, at California State University, Fresno, — a Hispanic Serving Institution and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution — we met Rafael, a faculty member in the school of education. Although he had been at California State University, Fresno for 28 years, it was never an obvious career choice. After immigrating from Mexico, Rafael told us he was bullied not only because he did not speak English well, but also for the way he dressed and smelled. According to Rafael: “Somehow to them it was funny. I don’t know where the funny part came from but to them it was, I guess. I never felt part of high school at all.” After dropping out of high school, he returned when he was given a personal tutor from a migrant background through the California Mini Corps Program. According to Rafael, The Mini Corps Program enabled him to have the support and courage to finish high school and go to college. Today Rafael is the coordinator of the very same program at California State University, Fresno.  He also helped found the College Migrant Assistant Program and started a foundation, which provides education, civic engagement, and immigrant services. We heard similar stories from teacher education faculty when visiting Jackson State University (a Historically Black University) in Mississippi and Stone Child College (a Tribal College) in Montana. 

Many teacher educators of color at Minority Serving Institutions choose this profession because they believe all teachers must be prepared to address racism and create classrooms where all children feel safe and included.  Just as teachers of color have been shown to have high expectations paired with high support for students of color, we found that teacher educators of color also have high expectations paired with high support for teacher candidates of color.  We see what a love of teaching looks like when racial equity and inclusion are front and center in the way we prepare future generations of educators.

Alice Ginsberg, Marybeth Gasman, and Andrés Castro Samayoa are the authors of For the Love of Teaching: How Minority Serving Institutions are Diversifying and Transforming the Profession (Teachers College Press, 2023).

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