OPINION | More teachers of color needed

As an African American male, I understand I’m a minority in education. Less than two percent of our nation’s teachers are black men, while fifteen percent of the country’s public school students are. While our most effective educators come from all backgrounds, those who share our students’ backgrounds can have a profound additional impact as mentors and role models. In our low-income communities where a majority of students are African-American and Latino, our students need to see their faces and experiences reflected in more of their teachers and leaders. I was glad to see this topic being discussed in the March 22nd piece: Race Matters for Teachers and Students.

Becoming a teacher and a school administrator has been a very personal journey for me. I joined Teach For America because I wanted to be part of a movement improving education opportunities for children in under-resourced communities. I felt it was an opportunity to share my story with students about what academic excellence can unlock and to work alongside teachers who feel the same way—my colleagues of all races and ethnicities who are committed to expanding opportunities for their students. Growing up here as the child of immigrants, there were always high expectations for me and my three siblings. It was my parents and teachers together who played a critical role in breaking the cycle of low expectations.

As an education community, we can start with ramping up our recruitment and retention of talented individuals of color—which I know local institutions of higher education are focusing on, as is Teach For America (this year in Minnesota, 25 percent of new teachers with TFA are individuals of color). Part of that recruitment means ensuring we’re engaging Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions and campus-based and national organizations serving diverse student populations like the United Negro College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.

We need more teachers of color, to be sure, but let’s be careful not to create false divides. All teachers are important allies in this work. As an administrator, I work every day with educators from many backgrounds who are here to teach and to serve, not to save. Together, we must commit to doing more to inspire our emerging leaders of color to lead our classrooms for the next generation and beyond.

  • I am also a teacher of color in Minneapolis. I have been teaching in Minneapolis for twenty-three years and all of those years with the exception of four have been in schools where the population was predominantly children of color. I heard a recent statistic that there were only twenty-five teachers of color. I find this statistic, if true, to be deplorable and a disservice to students of color. I agree that more teachers of color are needed, but I disagree with using Teach for America as the resource to hire those teachers. As a parent I want my child in a class being taught by a teacher who has gone through a thorough teacher preparation program which includes child development and psychology as well as pedagogy classes and not a five week boot camp. Would you want a doctor, lawyer, or psychologist whose training consisted of five weeks? Why has the teaching profession become a target for reformers to remove the professional training required to be an effective teacher? Furthermore, if all that you are committing yourself to is two years then how big of an impact do you intend to make because I can honestly say that my first five years were learning new instructional and behavior management techniques. During my preparation I spent 7 months as an apprentice with a seasoned teacher as a mentor in her classroom. She taught me how to prepare lesson plans, manage a classroom, adapt to changes that naturally occur in the classroom, monitor student behavior, and ways to address student behavior. Although, I did this I was still not fully prepared, but what I brought to the classroom was an awareness of the issues our students are facing, a willingness to engage with them and their families, and the sincere belief that all of our students bring assets into our classrooms and not deficits. We can learn from them if we are open to their teachings about themselves, their home lives, and cultures. I grew up in Memphis, TN before arriving here in 1976 when I was in the 6th grade. I am a product of Minneapolis Public Schools and I know that from then to now what exists amongst our students is not an achievement gap but a gap of opportunity. They need to be given the opportunity, as I was, to be exposed to different venues, i.e. theater performances, dance troupe performances, art museums, as well as science museums. They need opportunities to express themselves. The answer is not within the corporate raiders who seek to privatize education by weaning the cream of the crop and leaving the unfunded special education and special needs students to the public education system. - by Pia Payne-Shannon on Wed, 04/03/2013 - 9:48am
  • Many people who critique TFA have not observed TFA teachers in action. Many people who critique the five weeks of training do not understand what that training entails or the level of work in communities the TFA educators have done prior to that training. Many people who critique TFA do not have any understanding of how many alumni continue to do work in high need classrooms for many years after their commitment, closing the achievement gap in ways traditionally trained teachers who abandoned those schools have not. Thank you for a thoughtful piece Mr. Arefe. I support bringing quality, diverse teachers into the classroom any way we possibly can. - by Anna Zillinger on Sat, 04/06/2013 - 1:40am

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Luwam Arefe's picture
Luwam Arefe

Luwam Arefe is the Vice Principal at KIPP Stand Academy.