The recent report by the Center for American Progress,, “Teacher Diversity Matters: A State-by-State Analysis of Teachers of Color,” students of color are unlikely to have classroom teachers who look like them or who share their life experiences. More than simply an issue of racial differences between teachers and students, there are a broad range of issues that both teachers, administrators, students, and parents must understand if we are to do a better job preventing more students from falling off of the primary to postsecondary pathway to college.

The introduction to the report notes:

“At some point over the next 10 – 12 years, the nation’s public school student body will have no clear racial or ethnic majority. In other words, students of color—students who are not classified as non-Hispanic whites—will constitute more than half of our primary and secondary students. This demographic trend is already manifest in some of the nation’s most populous states, including California and Texas, where the majority of students are students of color.

But the makeup of the nation’s teacher workforce force has not kept up with these changing demographics. At the national level, students of color make up more than 40 percent of the public school population. In contrast, teachers of color—teachers who are not non-Hispanic white—are only 17 percent of the teaching force.”

As an African-American parent and product of urban schools where nearly all of my teachers were teachers of color, my two sons have had few such teachers. With my older son now in his third year at Amherst College and my younger son in his final year of high school, my wife developed strategies that were largely successful in bridging the socio-cultural gaps between our family and our sons’ teachers and dispelling the many stereotypes that teachers have of children and families who do not look like them and who do not share their set of life experiences.

Some of the important questions to be raised are:

  • How will teachers raised in predominately white suburban communities understand students and families of color, and particularly who are living in poverty?
  • How will such teachers overcome the many stereotypes they were indoctrinated with during their upbringing about “those people?”
  • How will such teachers overcome racial, cultural, gender, generational, and socioeconomic gaps to build relationships with students and families?
  • What must teachers to do overcome the inherent distrust that many students and families have of teachers and schools?

Share the blog entry, “It Happened to Them” with teachers who may need to be reminded of how important it is to overcome the deeply embedded institutional stereotypes regarding children of color and children living in poverty.

While there is much that teachers and schools must do to address these important issues, some of the important things that we had to do that parents and students of color might consider:

  1. At the beginning of each school year, we send in a package of information about our family, our expectations for our children (academic and behavior), the aspirations that our children have for themselves, and our contact information (phone, email, and fax).
  2. We express to teachers that if there are academic honors, e.g., Honor Roll, National Honor Society, etc., that we expect our children to qualify.
  3. We make it a point to express to teachers that we are expecting “A’s” and not just passing grades!
  4. We contact teachers on a regular basis as a means of keeping in touch to ensure that our children are doing well academically and behaving as expected.
  5. We reaffirm our expectations each morning with our children and ask the question each day after school, “Tell me what happened today at school.”
  6. We make it a point to meet with the school’s counselor, principal, safety officer, custodians, cafeteria workers, and anyone at the school who will come into contact with our children.
  7. At the end of the school approaches we attempt to identify the best teachers for our children for the next school year and we send a letter to the principal asking for such teachers as the best match to the needs of our children (easier in elementary school, more difficult in middle school, and nearly impossible in high school)
  8. We express to our sons the importance of sitting in the front of the class, participating in class discussions, and avoiding the stereotypes that are typically directed at boys and particularly boys of color.
  9. Whenever there are teachers of color, or men, on staff we lobby the principal to assign our sons to their classrooms (provided that they are good teachers).
  10. We identify programs run by teachers of color, or men, for our sons to participant in, e.g., athletics, martial arts, music, chorus, JROTC, clubs, etc.

Keep in mind that there are many gaps to overcome, e.g., socioeconomic, cultural, educational, gender, and many stereotypes to be dispelled when teachers are racially and culturally different from the students whom they teacher and families whom they must interact with. My wife and I are well aware at how exhausting it is to cultivate the necessary relationship with our sons’ teachers so that they are vested in our sons’ success. However, we have found that identifying teachers who are vested in student success is not function of race, but one of the heart.

As a result of our proactive approach to building relationships with our sons’ teachers we have, more often than not, been successful in cultivating the necessary relationships to ensure our sons’ social and academic success during their K – 12 schooling.

Read the report…