Op-Ed: We Need More Teacher Diversity In Our Urban Communities

Yasmine Veale | February 5, 2016 | Opinion
It’s important that students have teachers and administrators who look like them so they feel inspired, relatable, and safe

Yasmine Veale
Newark parents are hard at work shifting through a number of educational offerings from the public and public charter systems to find a school that best suits the needs of their children for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year.

Unquestionably, they will examine the best-quality programs, the most-convenient locations, and the ability to have siblings attend the same school. But parents should also consider teacher diversity at the schools they are researching. Is the school inclusive of the cultures that make up our city, or is it just window dressing? A school’s commitment to diversity should play an important role in where parents enroll their children, especially those from low-income and working-class families who deserve access to a high-quality education.

Newark is the largest city in New Jersey and has a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, and races. There are more than 19,000 black students, and over 15,000 Hispanic students enrolled in nearly 70 schools that make up the Newark Public Schools (NPS). The teachers that contribute to the educational success of these students need to be just as diverse.

As a former student of various Newark schools, I experienced firsthand how an exceptional school with great educators and innovative curriculum can create a disconnect between cultures when there is a lack of teacher diversity. I don’t believe teacher diversity in the district is where it should be.

According to a 2014 report from the New Jersey Educational Policy Forum on Racially Disparate Impact on Teachers, more than half of them in Newark’s charter schools are Caucasian; with the proportion of Caucasian teachers in NPS less than 40 percent.

That was my own experience. Unfortunately, not much has changed since I left for college. Today, my younger sisters are currently enrolled in the same school I attended and regrettably there is still a lack of diversity within the teacher ranks. My sisters are currently learning about the harms and ills of oppression and racism on communities of color, but their teachers don’t reflect this community at all. They can’t quite relate the same way to their students the way minority teachers would on these sensitive issues. Still, I must note, they are excelling academically.

Given the current climate of race relations in America, it’s important that students have teachers and administrators that look like them so they feel inspired, relatable, and safe. All students, regardless of race, can benefit from a diverse teacher pool.

Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on in the education-reform debate, it’s clear that Newark has made significant improvements and advancements. Graduation rates have improved; the city is using advanced technology in the classrooms; and it appears we have a superintendent who is listening to the concerns of the community and working with organizations like the New Jersey Black Alliance for Educational Options and the public charter sector to help level the playing field. Teacher diversity should be another component of the district’s improvement and parents need to consider the pool of teachers when choosing the best school option for their children.

As a former student of the district, I implore parents as they fight for high-quality education options to ensure educators at their child’s school directly reflect the communities in which they serve.