You reap what you sow when it comes to developing teachers. And overrepresentation of white teachers in public schools should make clear what current teacher preparation programs are built to yield. The supposed teacher shortage crisis is really an inability to cultivate black and brown talent that’s right in front of us in local classrooms.
The majority of students in public schools are minority but only 18 percent of teachers are people of color. That’s not by choice: In urban school districts, just as in suburban and rural ones, communities have students who aspire to be teachers. Call it what you will — racism, unconscious bias or color blindness — but understand that black and brown local students aren’t seen as potential teachers and that teachers of color work in conditions that discount them.
As a response to a lack of community representation in local schools, educators are looking to grow-your-own (GYO) programs — the latest jargon relating to recruiting and retaining local teachers — which attempt to address the failure to recruit and retain local teachers, who are in plain sight. Some programs are connected to universities, like Pathways2Teaching with the University of Colorado Denver. Others such as GYO Illinois are nonprofits that have university affiliations but are much more connected to the communities they serve.
GYO programs make educational, political and economic sense. Study after study has shown that students are likelier to learn from someone who looks like them, a neighbor rather than a stranger. A pale male teaching biology in a broad Boston accent may not inspire a black kid with a New Orleans drawl to follow in his footsteps. While there are certainly black teachers and leaders who have negative views of black children, research consistently shows that black teachers have higher expectations of them, which is a kind of a buffer for injustice. Teachers are also important members of the middle class and have influence in local politics, both pressing needs in black and brown communities.
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