Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Color of Learning

Go to any major city and you will see that the teachers as well as the state and school leadership are mostly White. Not that that is inherently wrong or some sort of a conspiracy, but it is a major problem. And, one we need to seriously talk about. Believe it or not, there is a color to learning.

The students who attend those schools come from some of the most poorest, violent, drug-infested communities in the country. Most of them come from single-parent households, non-college educated parents, and never see a professional who look like them in their neighborhoods. So, when they go to school, they need to see teachers and administrators of color, because those individuals do more than the ABC's of teaching and learning or running a school. They serve as life models for students who only see rappers and ball players leave the neighborhood.

Colleges of education, civic organizations, as well as the State Departments of Education have to make it a priority to recruit and hire more teachers and administrators of color. I am not talking about a quota thing or a "reverse discrimination" thing; I am talking about the need to bring in people who have a better chance at reaching the students on a visceral level - beyond the speech of the benefits of getting a college degree.

I know from personal experiences that I connected more with Black teachers and how often Black parents sought me out once I started working in education. I can't describe in words what it means to see someone who looks like you and who you can relate to on a cultural level. There is a level of trust involved and a belief that this person has your best interest at heart. And, that is a powerful motivator as a learner and as someone who is trying to find their way in a country that doesn't like to show the full diaspora of people of color.

Now, before you call me a racist, I am not saying that White teachers and administrators have no place in urban schools or can't or aren't doing a great job. I know many who are and consider quite a few of them to be friends. What I am saying is that it makes a difference to students of color the race and gender, for that matter, of the teachers and administrators at their schools. If you don't believe me, ask them. They will tell you it does.

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment.


  1. How? How do we attract, train, & keep Black teachers in schools where their example can make a real difference?

  2. Jason,

    Schools of Education at universities need to recruit and create scholarship programs for students of color who choose to major in Education. Also need more nonprofits like The Golden Apple Foundation (, whose mission is to recruit more young people into the teaching profession. Though they don't exclusively recruit students of color. They do a great job at doing so.


  3. I thought this post was thought provoking and I agree with you. I even see it in our Spanish cultures with the Spanish speaking teachers. Being white, Danish and very blonde I often wonder how I can better relate and connect with anyone because unlike some I refuse to believe that that is simply how is will always be.

  4. I can understand your point. But, as a white teacher that has ONLY taught in very challenged socio-economical areas that were predominatly a made up of minority students, I had a GREAT repore with all my students.
    I may be white, but I come from immigrant teenage parents that were dirt poor! I inculcated in all my students the power of education and the the control they have of the path they chose to take in life. I had my students flouish personally and academically thorugh mutual respect, discipline, and structure. The main indgrient was COMPASSION. It not about color its about COMPASSION and Love. In the end GOD does not see color, Jesus died for ALL. My students and I respected each others humantity and struggles.

  5. Faalata,

    You seem to be upset by my assertions. I apologize if you got the impression that I have a negative feeling or viewpoints about non teachers and administrators of color. That is simply not the case. I clearly stated that there are some great White teachers and administrators out there. I truly believe that a really caring and loving teacher of any race is preferred over a half-ass teacher of a specific race. That said, there are not enough teachers and administrators in urban schools.

    Some of those schools have 2000 kids and only 5-7 teachers of color. I actually worked at a school that 10 teachers of color. That is insane and does nothing to change the perceptions in those students minds' that they need to join the game to get out of the hood. Sometimes the messenger is just as important as the message.

  6. I have to agree that children need to see role models that look like them. It gives them hope and let's them see the possibilities that life has to offer. As much as we try to teach our children that race doesn't the end of the day we live in a country that is very race conscious. I don't really believe that people of other races understand what it's like raising a child of color. My children live in a pretty nice area and I still face challenges with them trying to find where they fit into the world as African American children. I know that it only gets more difficult when you add poverty and other challenges to the equation.

    Where I may differ is in the method. I don't think that teachers and administrators necessarily have to be of color. Schools should do a better job of partnering with community leaders, business men/woman, clergy and the like that are successful people of color. We should establish viable mentoring programs that give these children the opportunity to see that they can be successful without touching a basketball or "spitting a verse".

    Too many times we cross the bridge only to get to the other side and burn it down. Once we figure out how to cross that bridge it should be our duty to make passages back over it to help bring others across. That's the heritage that Harriett Tubman, Frederick Douglas and other pioneering African Americans left us and that's the mindset that we need to embrace more freely.

    Great topic and discussion!!!

  7. Hi Will,

    Clemson has a great program called Call Me Mister. that seeks to recruit men from under-represented groups into teaching. You should check that program out. Might be good for your BTR show.


  8. Sean,

    That's a great idea. Thanks for responding. How diverse is the field of Student Affairs? Aside from Multicultural Affairs, are there a lot of people of color in other offices on campus?

  9. I have to let you know - it's not just color... When I taught students who were deaf and hard of hearing, I had a student tell me he wasn't going to grow up. He had never seen a deaf adult, so he didn't think they existed! I worry about the school where I teach now - we have very few students of color, but we're getting an influx of students who have families from India. I don't believe we have one teacher from this culture at our school. (Of course, I could be wrong, because I tend to not see how people look - color, hair, clothes, weight!!) It bothers me that I don't know about their culture and what is considered disrespectful or...?? I'd love to have an online community where we can go and seek out teachers from various cultures to Skype with our students or teach a short lesson online, or... In this world of connections, there's got to be help out there. Thanks for writing and spurring this much-needed conversation!