Politics, Moderate



Why having a diverse teaching corps matters

Esther J. Cepeda on

I've been blessed to teach in schools chock full of absolutely caring, devoted, selfless and hard-working teachers and administrators who would do practically anything to ensure the academic success of all their students.

But even in such environments of pulling out all the stops to make sure all kids progressed, there were still obvious ways in which white students were seen as academically ready to thrive while black and Hispanic students were considered lesser -- too poor, too devoid of resources at home, too far behind peers or otherwise too downtrodden to succeed.

At best, some of these students of color were given extra resources and attention by adults, though sometimes these efforts were tinged with pity. At worst, some kids -- even as young as first grade -- were simply written off as unsalvageable.

Throughout my years in education I've been present at meetings where such students were referred to as stupid or hopeless. Their parents were savaged as being clueless, unhinged or having been purchased by a spouse as a mail-order bride from a foreign country. In one case, my presence was not enough to hold the tongue of a teacher who suggested that a male Hispanic student's career trajectory would peak with becoming a janitor.

This behavior, however, pales in comparison to the impact minority teachers can make. It may sound trite, but there is relief and even pure joy when minority students experience having a teacher who shares their culture.

A more diverse teacher corps is not a panacea -- the single most important factor in student achievement is the quality of the teacher regardless of race or ethnicity.

But if more Hispanic college students can be recruited into teaching through a variety of supports and incentives, the way in which struggling students are perceived in schools can slowly begin to change.

Teaching is not easy or particularly lucrative, relative to other highly skilled professions. But walking into a classroom and being a living, breathing example of all the possibilities that a good education can open up offers its own rewards.


Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group



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