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Teacher Diversity Increases Student Success

Teacher calling on student in active classroom

As Texas’ students become even more diverse, the state graduation rate has reached a new low, making diversity hires more necessary than ever.

Recent data from The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) shows Texas is losing one in five students before they can graduate, particularly impacting black and Hispanic students who are twice as likely to not graduate. Many factors attribute to this loss, but interpersonal influences such as getting along with teachers and feelings of not belonging play a role in whether students can academically succeed. These issues can be eased when teachers more fully reflect the student body they work with.

Student Impact

For students, having teachers you relate to can have a positive impact on how effective you are in school. In an interview with the Washington Post, one Hispanic student recalled having difficulty connecting with a non-Hispanic teacher who came from a background they did not share. However, when a Hispanic teacher shared stories about their home and life, the student felt more connected saying, “My house, it’s the same way.”

Evidence that a diverse teaching base improves student success is more than anecdotal. A study by Harvard Kennedy School suggests when teacher demographics reflect the student demographic, academic success increases for all races and ethnicities, particularly in cases of students who had historically underperformed. While another study published by Education Next found teachers of a similar background to their students had higher expectations of them, which may encourage them to succeed.

Despite the benefits of diverse hires, recruiting and retaining a diverse teacher workforce can be challenging.

Why Do They Leave?

Although teachers of color are dedicated to the students they work with, outside factors often inhibit them from thriving in the classroom or staying long term. In a report by The Education Trust, the issue of teachers of color leaving faster than their white counterparts is a problem that began in the early 2000s. Before this, teachers regardless of race left the profession at similar rates. When asked about some of the difficulties they experienced, teachers of colors reported:

  • Antagonistic school culture
  • Feeling undervalued
  • Navigating unfavorable working conditions
  • Financial and psychological tolls

In addition to these factors, the Edutopia article Why Black Teachers Walk Away notes experiences of:

  • Microaggressions, a subtle, sometimes unconscious, act of racial or ethnic discrimination; and
  • Having to take on extra responsibilities as one of the few teachers of color and others assuming their extra “connectedness” with students of color.

These issues can overwhelm teachers and burn them out from teaching at large.      

How Can We Help?

Although a complicated issue, there are some ways to encourage teachers of color to remain in teaching.

In a 2019 report entitled If You Listen, We Will Stay: Why Teachers of Color Leave and How to Disrupt Teacher Turnover, The Education Trust suggests:

  • Value teachers of color by providing loan forgiveness services and loan repayment incentives.
  • Collect and disaggregate data by race and ethnicity on teacher recruitment, hiring, and retention.
  • Invest in the recruitment, preparation, and development of strong diverse leaders committed to positive working conditions for a diverse workforce.

In School Leaders Can Help Reduce Minority Teacher Turnover, researchers Anna J. Egalite and Constance A. Lindsay recommend:

  • Prepare teachers of color for leadership positions as a form of retainment. Teachers of color were surveyed to be happier with leaders of color in place.
  • Ensure advancement opportunities are made available. Teachers of color run the risk of being “pigeonholed” into one role, such as a primary disciplinarian, and unable to advance.

In Short

Overall, offering support and understanding helps retain a needed diverse teacher workforce that encourages students of all backgrounds to succeed and thrive. Combined with an awareness of the issues they face and promoting action that supports them, teachers can help students along the pathway to graduation and success.

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