Teachers of color, your presence is requested at the equity table
VIVETT DUKES | 1/25/2018, 9:23 a.m.
The lack of teachers of color in America hurts all students, Black, Latino, Asian and white. This statement is not just my opinion. It is a fact, and one that sadly continues to be overlooked in the hiring practices of districts across the United States.
Although students of color can develop deep ties with any teacher, there is evidence that having teachers who resemble them can improve their test scores, provide role models and raise expectations of what they can accomplish.
Yet in New York City, as in districts across the country, there is a glaring disconnect between many students’ race or ethnicity and that of their teachers. Whereas 83 percent of New York City students are Asian, Black or Latino, only 39 percent of teachers are members of those groups, according to 2015-16 state data compiled by Education Trust-New York, an advocacy group that tries to improve outcomes for students of color.
I didn’t have a teacher of color until I was in high school, and then I only had one. My son didn’t have a teacher of color until he was in the eighth grade. He was so affected by being taught in a predominantly white learning environment that he chose to attend a historically Black college, where he is surrounded by Black excellence. The professors are Black. The janitors are Black. The students are Black. My daughter didn’t have a Latina teacher until she was in the sixth grade. She had four Black teachers in her seventh grade year (she went to a private/parochial school)—and that was it.
When I voiced this disparity online recently, I was met with the response to just hire more teachers of color. Simple right? It should be but, sadly, hiring practices are racist and skewed to benefit the hiring of white women. In fact, 85 percent of teachers in the United States are white women. It’s not that they are more qualified than other applicants. It’s that teachers of color and the value that we and only we bring to our students and our classroom and school environments are not valued. Black teachers are disproportionately relegated to function in the school community as deans and other roles that are predominantly called to intervene in disciplinary actions. This policy is rooted in a strong, historical, overseer mentality.
Where are the Black, Latino and Asian teachers? Come out, come out, wherever you are! Your presence is requested at the equity-in-education table. Please take your rightful place and have a seat. The message that is sent when students only have white teachers is that white is right. White is better. White represents authority. These are very dangerous and damaging messages to feed young impressionable minds. Such messages stem from the racism that is inbred in America’s past and present educational practices. This paradigm reeks of white privilege.
I am sounding the alarm and calling for a purposeful shift in the hiring practices of schools across New York City and the nation. Teachers of color must be sought out and hired. We are there. Our resumes are updated. Our applications are in. Those in positions to hire, it’s time you check any bias you might or might not be aware of and do your part to ensure that the Black and Brown and white students being taught in your schools have Black and Brown and white teachers in front of them every day and in every grade of their K-12 educational careers. That is the leap of justice that educational equity and accountability needs to take—and fast.
Vivett Dukes is a teacher-leader and humanitarian “who is dedicated to taking [her] voice outside of the classroom in an effort to elevate authentic conversations and grassroots changes in educational equity.”