NJ looks to shrink its student-teacher diversity gap

As minority children have become the majority in the state’s public schools, districts are struggling to attract teachers of color to the workforce.

While more than half of students in New Jersey are nonwhite, just 16% of teachers are, according to the state Department of Education.

“Urban areas, it is truly beneficial to mirror your population, right? To understand the cultural nuances, to understand the language, to really support the family. And to do that you really have to understand their culture, their language and what they bring to the classroom and the schools,” said Paterson Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Perón.

But it’s minority male teachers that the state is really struggling to recruit and keep in the classroom.

Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, who represents Paterson, was once a special-education teacher in the district. He says it’s important for students in urban areas to be surrounded by teachers with similar backgrounds that can act as role models.

“In particular, when it comes to our young men of color, African American and Latino men, to incarcerate them, it’s $61,000 a year. To educate them, it’s around $16,500 a year. It’s a matter of where your priorities are and where you want to go, invest now or pay later,” said Wimberly.

Nationwide, black and Hispanic males each make up just 2% of the teaching workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

And the lack of teachers of color in the classroom recently prompted Gov. Murphy to sign legislation creating a pilot program. It would recruit minority men to teach in certain underperforming schools through the state’s alternate route teacher preparation program.

In January, the Department of Education provided $750,000 in grants to Montclair State University and Rutgers University for recruitment and training efforts to attract teachers and then place them in high-needs school districts.

“There was a lot of Caucasians, or nonminority males,” said Montclair State graduate Efraim Monterroso.

Monterroso graduated last week with a teaching degree specializing in Spanish Secondary Education. Monterroso says having a mentor who was a minority male teacher in high school is what inspired him to pursue education.

If they see someone who’s gone through college, has finished the degree, has, you know, crossed the hurdles that they are probably experiencing at the current moment and making are relatable it really makes it achievable,” Monterroso said.