Greater diversity in teaching staff would benefit all students: Mercy Quaye
Connecticut schools need more diversity, for representation and for social change.
The rate of the recruitment of teachers of color in the state isn’t keeping up with the rate of the increase in students of color. In response, Governor Lamont has proposed legislation to correct that, because representation of this kind is a value to students of all races.
You’ve heard the argument before — students of color do measurably better when they have a picture of what’s possible for them standing in front of the classroom. From that, we’ve coded the need for representation to mean black and brown kids see more of themselves everywhere — especially in positions of power. But the need for representation needs to extend well past the halls and homerooms of inner-city schools, and into the bubbled suburban districts with meager numbers of teachers and administrators of color.
Everyone should consider what we are teaching the minds of tomorrow about who possesses knowledge and power if the only example they have, grade after grade, are teachers who are white. What are we saying about the color of authority if kids in both urban and suburban schools report to a monolithic teaching and administration staff? How can we adequately prepare students for the growing diversity in their futures, if they’re being taught only Eurocentric histories?
I think students in New Haven happen to be spoiled with diversity. It’s a good thing, but it has not always been that way. I’m a product of New Haven Public Schools and I can count on one hand how many black or Latinx teachers I had during my time enrolled here. Over the years, though, various initiatives have increased the number of teachers and administrators of color in the district — HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) pipelines and alternative routes to certification helped play a role in that. As a result, New Haven students have the privilege of being led by teachers and administrators from a wide range of backgrounds.
What about New Haven’s neighboring school districts?
Hamden Public Schools just announced its plans to roll out an initiative to tackle this issue. To increase their percentage of high-quality teachers of color, they’re creating alternative paths to certification and supporting employed paraprofessionals in continuing their education. They didn’t have to make this change. At 11 percent, the district’s breakdown of staff color is higher than the state’s 8 percent average. As such, Hamden is an example of intentional diversification instead of the passive acceptance of low racial representation shown in other districts.
The 2017-18 EdSight stats for East Haven show that the district has a well-insulated racial bubble. The teaching population breaks down to 96.4 percent white and less than 2 percent black or Latinx. The student body, however, is 64 percent white, 25 percent Latinx and 4.5 percent black.
We’re doing our students a complete disservice by insulating them from the diversity just outside of the school doors. What’s more, we may be perpetuating cyclical biases by adopting a “we teach our own” perspective in historically white communities where the dynamics of power have been skewed in their favor.
We naturally fear that which we do not know. When you mix fear and power together, though, the equation may result in viral videos of racist rants in grocery stores — at best. Those victims of their own privileged bubbles have no choice but to rely on stereotypes of people they’ve never met before in order to navigate through life. Bubbles like that foster an unrealistic picture of our nation and allows people to opt-out of cultural awareness.
Diversity, in all forms, is good for everyone. So, while we work on increasing teachers of color in all districts, I’m optimistic about the state adopting a bill to also increase curricula that focuses on Black and Latinx history.
We’re used to an education system that leaves out major chunks of history. We’re so used to it we forget history is written from the prospective of the victor. Our curricula relegates everything we teach students about black history to February, and everything we teach about Latinx history to the week of May 5th. You see that? We’ve built layers of segregation into the school calendar. Even if it’s not intentional.
Most educators mean well. They spend hours on end working on lesson plans and pouring into their students. But “well-meaning” sometimes isn’t enough. The impact to students is often wrapped up in racial dynamics that “well-meaning” can’t address. To start to chip away at those dynamics, we need to actively internalize a value of diversity in staff and in studies.
Let’s be clear: It’s unrealistic to expect any district to replace its entire white staff with a staff of color, and no one’s asking for that (you can release your fears about feeling replaced now). But it may be equally unrealistic and even dysfunctional to not see a problem with a monolithic staff — in any organization.
Preparing students for tomorrow’s world requires exposing them to it. The ripples of that kind of cultural exposure, whether in staffing or curricula, will impact the way we think about race. Maybe it’ll even end racism.
Just kidding. It won’t do that. But it couldn’t hurt.
Mercy Quaye is a social change communications consultant and a New Haven native. Her column appears Mondays in Hearst Connecticut Media daily newspapers. Contact her at @Mercy_WriteNow and SubtextWith Mercy@gmail.com.