A diverse teaching workforce matters now more than ever

February 10, 2021
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Opinion piece by Rebecca Good, Ed.D.

Connecticut’s work to ensure our students are being taught by an effective, diverse teaching workforce must not be slowed by a pandemic or civil unrest — in fact, they exacerbate the importance of this work.

It’s encouraging that addressing inequity through increasing teacher diversity continues to be a priority of the education committee. Having effective, diverse teachers connecting with students and families of diverse backgrounds is a big hurdle — one that is particularly important now. To truly address inequity, we must increase teacher diversity and prepare culturally responsive teachers to support students as they navigate the political and social climate that is pulsating with issues connected to racism, injustice and civil rights.

Research shows that students who self-identify with their teachers earn higher standardized test scores, are more successful in the classroom and hold stronger interpersonal connections with their teachers. While we have begun efforts to prioritize teacher diversity in our state, we have only seen a 1.3 percent increase in minority teachers over the span of five years, resulting in a mere 9.6 percent of minority K-12 teachers. This is not reflective of the more than 40 percent of students of color the state serves. More must and can be done.

Connecticut has made a commitment to change. A 2019 bill ,An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention, was a huge step in the right direction. The bill removes previously established barriers that were disproportionately impacting aspiring educators of color, in addition to supporting aspiring educators of color on the path toward realistically achieving their desired education job title. Since then, local and regional boards of education are working toward hiring a minimum of 250 teachers of color statewide each year in addition to providing mortgage assistance for educators who graduated from universities that traditionally serve students of color.

Supportive groups like The Connecticut Minority Teacher Recruitment Policy Oversight Council are also contributing to the effort by providing strategic guides to improve recruitment approaches with diversity in mind. In May, the Connecticut State Board of Education and Connecticut Office of Higher Education recognized Relay Graduate School of Education as an accredited institution of higher education in Connecticut to help address the gap. Since 2016, more than 100 aspiring teachers have completed Relay’s teacher certification program, with more than 70 percent identifying as teachers of color. Now Relay can continue our support of aspiring and current teachers as they pursue graduate degrees — a requirement of educators in our state to obtain professional licensure.

These efforts alone will not reach our goal. We must continue to push for additional solutions. It will only be together that we will make an impact. Imagine if every educator preparation program in the state had at least 10 educators of colors entering the teaching workforce — there would be an immediate impact on diversifying the teaching workforce. Imagine if every teacher, aspiring or already in the classroom, received support to ensure their approach was culturally relevant. There would be a dynamic impact on the positive student experience in our schools.

Connecticut legislators have a clear role to play in addressing our teacher diversity challenges. We must encourage them to support already established initiatives with appropriate funding structures. We should vouch for mandated diversity, equity and inclusion training to build understanding about how historically discriminatory practices continue to create obstacles for teachers of color. We need to remove policy barriers for entering the profession like the abundance of teacher certification exam prerequisites, which some have shown to have little to no correlation with teacher success and disproportionately exclude diverse educator candidates. We need to speak on the importance of passing legislation that can help prospective teacher candidates of color excel in and afford to take certification exams. We must also demand accountability measures to assess the impact of legislative efforts and implement strategies to challenge systems of oppression.

Effective change will not happen until we tackle the student-teacher diversity gap. The efforts we’ve begun cannot stop despite the other real challenges we’re facing. We must evolve and work proactively and collaboratively to ensure that the next generation isn’t left to dismantle systems we can improve today.

Rebecca Good is the founding dean of Relay Graduate School of Education in New York, and served as a secondary teacher and principal in New Haven.

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