Where Did the Teachers of Color Go?
Decolonizing Education Starts with Teacher Diversity
"The more I pull back the rose-colored glasses—or more specifically, my colonized lens—the easier it becomes to challenge systems that intentionally screen diversity out."
Nationally we are asking, “Where did all the teachers go?” For over a decade we have seen a decline in candidates entering the teaching profession. More so, we have seen a decline in teachers of color1. This is problematic for the entire country, but in New Mexico, where the population of students is incredibly diverse, it is a crisis.
We need teachers who are from the community and share a common culture to present material in a relevant way. At a time when the pandemic has shown us so much inequity among students, we should also be looking at grave teacher inequities. The question then becomes, “Where did all the teachers of color go?”
Many students find a teacher that inspires them, who serves as a role model, and is someone they can relate to2. With an increasingly diverse student population, in a predominately white female profession, it is becoming more and more challenging to find teachers that identify with diverse student populations. It is imperative to rebuild the teacher pipeline with educators that match the diversity of students.
If we want to rebuild the pipeline, we must look at the barriers that exist, and develop new ideas on how to attract interest from a more diverse candidate pool. As someone who has worked in the educational system for over 20 years, it is uncomfortable at first to look critically at the profession I love. However, the more I pull back the rose-colored glasses, or more specifically, my colonized lens, the easier it becomes to challenge systems that intentionally screen diversity out.
So what is standing in the way of more teacher diversity? I work as the Program Administrator for LEAP, a statewide alternative licensure program in New Mexico, and I see the challenge of recruiting and retaining a diverse teaching workforce. If I had to name three top barriers to entry they would be:
- High GPA requirements and state exams.
Research has found that college students of color are more likely to work longer job hours while attending college potentially lowering their grade point averages3. In a world where we value “grit,” it would seem that someone who earns a bachelor’s while working full-time would be a valuable role-model of grit and a good potential teaching candidate.
The other entrance barrier of state testing has shown that test-takers of color score lower than their white counterparts nationally4. Also, in our teacher program, we have found that teachers with learning disabilities struggle with testing and are being screened out of the profession5.
- Colonized teacher programs.
We need to decolonize the teacher preparation curriculum by looking critically at western educational theory and replacing it with Universal Design for Learning and culturally responsive teaching practices. As education majors, we have been sold the idea of “kids need to Maslow before they Bloom,” we have designed objectives that follow Bloom’s learning sequence, we have evaluated healthy human development as determined by Piaget, and have structured classroom management after Skinner. Why? In a state where diversity is the majority, we need to ask ourselves who benefits from these dominant narratives?
Maslow developed his model when studying with the Blackfoot Nation, flipping the triangle so only the elite can self-actualize, prioritizing the individual rather than the community6. Piaget based his theory off a specific, elite, upper-class group of children, ignoring that human development is heavily tied to cultural norms7. Bloom used a model to determine how all students learn, when in fact, as educators, we know all students learn differently8. And Skinner taught us to manipulate and control students to manage a classroom9. Why would we prepare teachers using these theories, require the passing of tests based on these theories, and then evaluate them on culturally responsive teaching practices? It does not add up.
- Not celebrating differences in teaching.
Lastly, we should approach the mentorship and support of teachers using culturally responsive practices. Everything we ask of our teachers to build into their classrooms such as multiple means of assessment, flexibility and responsiveness, prioritizing relationships, etc., is the exact opposite of how we treat the teachers themselves. They are evaluated and labeled based on one standardized form with one to two snapshots, they are penalized for often knowing better than administration on what works for their community of learners, are dehumanized when they are not conforming, and eventually exited from the profession for not being typical, or more specifically, colonized.
Teachers Can Transform the System
Teacher recruitment and retention is not just about numbers, it is about embracing differences, learning from one another, and respecting experiences. If New Mexico continues to chase down a western model of education, we will continue to be last because the model was created to put diversity last.
In a time where New Mexico has exceptional educational leadership, there has been no other time to be different and to embrace our state’s ancestral indigenous heritage and rebuild an educational system founded on relationships, respect, reciprocity, and relevance. That restart begins in teacher preparation and development. Once we do that we’ll have access to a larger, diverse pool of teaching candidates who will contribute to the much needed transformation and decolonization of our education system.
1Boser, U. (2014). Teacher diversity revisited: A new state-by-state analysis. Center for American Progress from bit.ly/3fjTyAz.
2 Dee, T. (2004). The race connection. Education Next, 4(2) (pp. 53-59).
3 Carnevale, A., & Smith, N. (2018). Balancing Work and Learning: Implications for Low Income Students. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
4 Tyler, L. (2011). Toward Increasing Teacher Diversity: Targeting Support and Intervention for Teacher Licensure Candidates. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
5 Leading Educators through Alternative Pathways. (2020). 2020 LEAP Annual Report. NM, Albuquerque: ces.org.
6 Bray, B. (2019, March 10). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Blackfoot (Siksika) Nation Beliefs. Rethinking Learning. bit.ly/3tNqmr4.
7 Hopkins, JR. The enduring influence of Jean Piaget. Observer, November; 2011.
8 Mohammad Ali Soozandehfar, S., Reza Adeli, M. (2016). A critical appraisal of Bloom’s taxonomy. American Research Journal of English and Literature, volume 2.
9 Cherry, K. (2020, June). What Is Operant Conditioning and How Does It Work? Verywell Mind. bit.ly/33QULdb.