Minority Teachers

Thomas Leonard and Zoe Stack

High school is well known to be a time of turmoil, a time of inner conflict. One major asset that students have is that they have teachers with them every day, all day, that they can talk to, relate to, and hopefully listen to. Those four years can be much harder if you don’t have a teacher that you can relate to. Such is the case with Jermayne Allen. 

“In high school, I only had a few Black teachers, teachers that looked like me or knew my background,” said Allen. 

Allen, who is currently preparing for graduation, reflects on his high school challenges as a student without seeing very much color in the classroom. This year, Allen was faced with inevitable obstacles that he feels would have been a lot easier to deal with if he had had a teacher similar to him.

“My most helpful teacher was a Black man, Mr. Wilkerson, at Washington High School. He knew how to talk to me in a way I could understand,” Allen stated.

According to state data cited in a Wisconsin State Journal 2014 article, less than 5 percent of Wisconsin’s school teachers and other staff are non-white. The 2013-2014 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s School Staff: Salary, Position, and Demographic Pl-1202 Fall Staff Report stated that of the 58,144 teachers employed in public schools in Wisconsin, 55,461 were White, 1,050 were African American, 915 were Hispanic, and 412 were Asian. 

At the national level, a report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that minority students make up almost 40 percent of American public schools, while minority teachers only make up about 17 percent. Also according to the CAP report, the gap between minority students and minority teachers can be linked to low graduation rates of minority groups. 

“None of my white teachers knew my struggle, so I imagine it being hard for them to identify with it. They didn’t really know what I experienced. It was different from their reality,” Allen said.

An American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education study found that over 80 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned in education given during the 2009-2010 school year were awarded to white students. 

University of Wisconsin-Madison registrar data shows that during the 2013-2014 school year, 16 out of the 131 students receiving degrees in elementary education were minorities, with just 3 of the 16 being black. 

A 2013-2014 analysis report collected by researchers from the Public Policy Forum showed that 16 of 53 metro area Milwaukee public school districts did not employ a single minority teacher. 

About 33% of students enrolled in the Wauwatosa school district are students of color. The percentage of teachers hired of color make up about 3.5% of its workforce.

“The diversity effort is advancing in our recruitment. We want to make it a more personal approach by reaching out to our surrounding universities to select candidates for the Wauwatosa district,” said Willie Garrison, Supervisor for Equity and Student Services for the Wauwatosa school district.  

The district plans to invest in teachers from Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to engage staff who present cultural similarities to minority students. 

Garrison wants to give students the chance at having color in the classroom, but also wants to protect and blanket minority students from candidates who look like them, but could potentially be simply that– a look alike. 

“I think it does have a huge effect on students. But color does not always matter. Being in education, we have to be very selective about who we put in front of students,” said Garrison.

For Garrison, the reality of seeing many classroom teachers who do not share a similar background to their students is not a foreign experience at all. 

“Growing up in the South, I did not see a lot of minority teachers. But having them gave me another relationship, relationships that are still in place,” said Garrison. 

Junior Miranda Brehmer said, “I never had Black or Hispanic teachers. I think that’s something that a person should be able to experience.” 

Director of Human Resources in the Wauwatosa School District, Craig Hubbell added, “I think minority students wanting to have teachers that look like them is a way of saying ‘we want to belong, just like everyone.’”

But much like Garrison, Hubbell wants to ensure protocol for the protection of all students in the district.

This lack of minority teachers is not much different at a national level. Across the country, student enrollment does not match the demographic identity of teachers. Nearly 82 percent of public school teachers are white and a lasting question remains: “how do minority teachers benefit students?” 

Professors from the University of Pennsylvania, Richard Ingersoll and Henry May, suggested in the Center for American Progress article, “Teacher Diversity Revisited. A new State-by-state analysis that, “minority students benefit from being taught by minority teachers because minority teachers are likely to have ‘insider knowledge’ due to similar life experiences and cultural backgrounds.” 

The Economics of Education Review recently published a study reporting that Black, white, and Asian students all tested higher when their teacher shared the same ethnicity compared to when in previous years they didn’t. 

One demanding factor stands that students of all backgrounds and ethnicities can, and soon will, benefit from diversity in the teaching and learning environment.