In Tennessee, students of color make up 35 percent of the public school population, yet just 15 percent of teachers in the state identify as people of color. SCORE’s 2015-16 State of Education in Tennessee report identified diversifying the teaching population as one of the annual priorities for the state. Improving the racial and ethnic diversity of the state’s teacher workforce is important because, as three educators explain below, students must see a diverse group of educators in classrooms. Substantial research has also identified the positive impact that teachers of color can have on the academic achievement of students of color.
However, there are several challenges with improving the racial and ethnic diversity of the teaching workforce. First, how do we encourage people of color to become teachers and give back to public school systems that have historically underserved them? Second, how do we ensure that we emphasize not only recruiting teachers of color but also retaining them, especially since so many of them teach in under-resourced schools? And, how do we ensure that a discussion about racial and ethnic diversity is accompanied by important conversations about using classroom practices that value students’ experiences and their communities?
While SCORE continues to explore how best to address these issues, we are also learning from educators across the state. We asked three of them—Laura Delgado, Erin Glenn, and Dr. Louis Glover—to share their perspectives on teacher racial and ethnic diversity in Tennessee.
Laura Delgado is Program Director of the Pionero Scholars Program at Lipscomb University. The program, which was founded in 2015, awards academic scholarships to students with the goal of bridging the gap between the number of immigrant and refugee students and teachers in Metro Nashville Public Schools. Six students will join the program in its inaugural year.
Q: Why is it important to increase the number of teachers of color in Tennessee?
A: If we want to improve education for black and brown children, we must ensure that black and brown educators and black and brown administrators are there to guide the work. Parker Palmer said, “You teach who you are.” The identity of teachers matters. It matters in the way they build classroom community, in the way they discipline, in the way they single out students for gifted and talented [programs], in the way they model respect and hard work to their students. Faith, gender, race, culture, and life experiences all shape the way each individual manages those scenarios. It matters that students see beautiful diversity in the adults who manage their education, and it matters that every student finds a teacher that they instinctively believe will listen and understand them. Students will tell you honestly they consider a teacher’s gender and race when they think who to entrust with a confidence. We should not ignore the honest truth of our youth.
Erin Glenn teaches eighth-grade social studies at East Lake Academy of Fine Arts in Hamilton County. Glenn has been teaching for 10 years, and she was recently selected as a 2016-17 Tennessee Educator Fellow.
Q: How do we encourage more African Americans and Hispanics to become teachers in Tennessee?
A: A diverse field of educators is an important component to students’ long-term success.To support the need for more African American and Hispanic classroom teachers, financial incentives could be used to encourage entry and retention in this field.
Recruiting strategies could offer scholarships and fellowships to minorities pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in education. (The Tennessee Minority Teaching Fellows program offers this kind of support.) Incentives for an alternative teaching license could also be used to attract minorities considering a change in their career. As the demographics of our neighborhoods and school communities are ever-evolving, efforts to support a diverse workforce [represent] an investment that yields endless possibilities.
Dr. Louis Glover is Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Dr. Glover is also the Program Director of Call Me MiSTER, an initiative to recruit teachers from more diverse backgrounds. The program will officially launch in fall 2017.
Q: What role should educator preparation programs (EPPs) play in improving the racial and ethnic diversity of Tennessee’s teaching workforce?
A: Representatives from EPPs should work closely with high schools to promote careers in the teaching profession (e.g., Future Teachers of America).
Starting in fall 2016 semester, the University of Tennessee at Martin’s Call Me MiSTER program will begin sending pre-service teachers to Tennessee high schools to conduct fun STEM activities with interested juniors and seniors. Call Me MiSTER is an initiative to recruit members from under-served groups into K-8 education. The expected outcome is that high school students will become interested in pursuing careers in education.
It is imperative that EPPs understand that for some potential recruits, racial and ethnic representation matters. When some students of color are asked why they never consider careers in certain fields of study, they will confess that they never considered the career because they never saw anyone in the profession who looked like them. If EPPs wish to attract members from diverse racial and ethnic groups into their programs, then they must have racially and ethnically diverse faculty members as recruiters as well.