The national teacher shortage continues to be a challenge for school administrators. Over three-quarters of U.S. states are understaffed, putting strain on the existing teacher workforce in districts nationwide. This shortage has created various direct and peripheral challenges – including disproportionate job inaccessibility and instability for teachers of color, which subsequently disadvantages students. The broad staffing issue is an enormous problem to solve, and along the way, administrators must continue to prioritize staff diversity to properly serve and support students and uphold an equitable working environment.
It is long-established that diversity in the workplace can lead to better business outcomes. Building a teaching staff that brings a variety of perspectives and backgrounds to the table makes for better problem-solving, more inclusivity and better support among students of varying backgrounds. Access to a diverse set of teachers benefits students from all backgrounds, as it helps students accept and value the differences of races and ethnicities different from their own. A diverse teaching staff has been shown to alleviate tension between students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Having more teachers of color on staff has been linked with better test scores, lower school suspensions and higher student aspirations, including better graduation rates and increased college attendance.
A more diverse teaching staff also yields higher parent involvement. Parents and guardians of color feel more comfortable communicating with teachers of similar backgrounds. Teachers who better understand a student’s background also implement differentiated approaches for disciplining students, which yields better academic outcomes for students of color. Bilingual teachers have the advantage of communicating with students in a language they feel more confident expressing themselves, which can improve student participation.
People of color can face various potential deterrents when considering a career in education; for instance, they are more likely to amass student loan debt, which makes pursuing a career in education less appealing than more lucrative options. Additionally, aspiring teachers of color may also struggle to find job placement at a school with the proper systems in place to support them.
School administrators can help curb this issue by taking creative, forward-thinking approaches to staff acquisition and retention, as well as ongoing support and accommodation to make for a stronger, more proactive working experience. These strategies may include:
Working with local colleges – Teachers of color are more likely to work in familiar areas, such as where they attended university. School administrators can contact these organizations to learn about career fairs and other recruiting opportunities to get in front of teachers of color before graduation. Similarly, establishing relationships with multilingual universities and historically Black colleges will provide access to a more diverse talent pool.
Creating teacher residency programs – Allowing student teachers to work at your school and earn money while completing their degree helps offset the college debt they’re more likely to incur. A teacher residency program helps prospective teachers of color complete their degrees while offering them a job during and after training.
Offering “grow your own” programs – School administrators in states like Minnesota have taken matters into their own hands to create alternative teaching certification programs. These programs allow schools to offer education roles to community members with bachelor’s degrees in another discipline to be certified as teachers.
Supporting teachers of color – Teachers of color bring alternative approaches that are much needed to help serve and support a diverse student body. Bias and inclusion training for teachers can help white teachers identify inherent biases. Additionally, affinity groups for teachers of color offer a space for teachers of color to support one another.
Diversity in education is beneficial to students and staff alike. Many school districts often struggle to attract and retain diverse teaching talent, putting students at a disadvantage across the board. That said, it’s integral for school administrators to identify the barriers to entry that teachers of color face and work toward making their schools inclusive and supportive.