By Evelyn M. Randle-Robbins, M.A., author of The Hands-On Guide to School Improvement
I remember growing up in the 70s and not seeing a toy doll that looked like me, a black girl.
Today, if you peruse the doll section in any toy store, you’ll find that more and more doll manufacturers are diversifying toy shelves. Even Barbie has moved beyond the blond, blue-eyed mold. You’ll find different skin tones, eye colors, facial structures, hair colors, and hairstyles. Now there are dolls that mirror the diversity of our children. It’s great for all kids to see themselves reflected in the world this way. Yet that diversity is still lacking in our schools: The demographics of this country’s teacher workforce has not kept up with its student demographics.
Government assessments show that minority students have become a majority in public schools. Yet the percentage of teachers who are racial minorities has not kept up: More than 80 percent of teachers are white.
Let me be clear: I’m in no way insinuating that children of color cannot learn from white educators! But I am asserting that our schools can profit by creating a diverse staff of highly qualified teachers. This means hiring more educators who look like our students, who share similar cultural experiences with them, and who can serve as their role models.
Why Does This Matter?
At the most basic level, cultural diversity among the teaching staff matters because it reflects the human condition. Individuals, communities, and populations have always been diverse, although historically, schools and other public institutions rarely have been organized to reflect and honor this fact (Freeman, Freeman, & Ramirez, 2008). Schools need teachers who have an appreciation for diversity. I agree with E.B. Koleski, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching Matters, when she says teachers “must view and teach difference as the ‘norm’ in society and reject notions that any one group is more competent than another. This entails developing respect for differences, and the willingness to teach from this perspective. Moreover, there must be an acknowledgment that the teachers’ views of the world are not the only views.”
“It’s also important that teachers relate to their students as more than just ‘bodies’ in the classroom,” says Koleski, “but also as social and cultural beings connected to a complex social and cultural family system.” Moreover, by becoming familiar with students’ home lives, teachers gain insight into the influences on students’ attitudes and behaviors that contribute to academic growth.
Finally, because there are several theories, there is no single right way of thinking about cultural diversity, just as there is no best way of teaching diverse students. But here are a few more things to keep in mind (regardless of whether your school has a diverse teaching staff):
- Make a conscious effort to offer diverse perspectives in examples and teaching materials.
- Help students learn to adapt and be flexible in new cultural environments.
- Address multiple learning styles and interactive processes.
- Rethink how to present information and how to connect with students in the classroom.
- Administrators: Pay attention to how the school addresses the needs of diverse students and make support programs available for students who are not meeting the standards.
- Administrators: Be proactive in assessing diversity needs. For example, does the school have a cultural fair or assembly to highlight diversity?
There is a need to build bridges between schools and teaching programs that promote more minority teachers in the classroom. All children have a basic right to a great public school with a highly qualified and thoughtful staff to help shape students’ racial identities, develop healthy self-image, and form well-rounded students.
Evelyn M. Randle-Robbins, M.A., holds a master’s in school leadership and supervision from Concordia University, as well as a master’s in elementary education from Columbia College. After serving as an educator in the Chicago Public Schools for over thirteen years, Evelyn became an assistant principal of the Howe School of Excellence, a K–8 school in Chicago, and later became the principal at the Curtis School of Excellence, also in Chicago. With her extensive experience at every level of school operations, Evelyn has both the theoretical knowledge and hands-on “know-how” to bring about school transformation and improvement. She lives in Chicago with her family.
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Freeman, Y., D. Freeman, and R. Ramirez (eds.). Diverse Learners in the Mainstream Classroom (2008).
Goldring, R., L. Gray, and A. Bitterman. Characteristics of Public and Private Elementary and Secondary School Teachers in the United States: Results from the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey (NCES 2013–314) (2013).
Henze, R., A. Katz, E. Norte, E.E. Sather, and E. Walker. Leading for Diversity: How School Leaders Promote Positive Interethnic Relations (2002).
Kozleski, E.B. “Culturally Responsive Teaching Matters!” (2010).
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD). “State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education: 1995–96 through 2011–12”; and “National Elementary and Secondary Enrollment Projection Model.”