White Women Like Me Dominate the Teaching Profession. Here’s Why That’s a Problem

I can name the Black educators I had growing up on one hand. 

One. Hand. 

And if I add the ones I had in college and graduate school, I’m still on that same one hand (gulp).

Let’s look at some data for context. I did a rough calculation of the total number of teachers I’ve had in my preschool-12th grade public school career — about 52. So for me, 5.7% of my teachers were Black. That’s not far off from the national average — currently, it is estimated that about 7% of teachers are Black even though 13% of the students that we serve are Black.

The average teacher? I’d do well to look in the mirror because I am the average American teacher — 43 years old, white, female.

Here’s why that’s a problem.

  • Our children need to see themselves in their teachers. In my hometown of Lakeland, FL, the 2010 census found that 20.5% of the population identified as Black. But if only 7% of our teachers are Black, we aren’t doing justice for our kids. They need to see role models who look like them achieving great things in life — all kinds of success. If the only people who are standing in front of them in the classroom are white women (ahem, me), then what message is that sending them?
  • Our teaching workforce needs diversity to meet the needs of our kids — all of them.  DEI is not just a passing catchphrase — it’s a necessity. We need teachers of multiple cultures, religions, colors, backgrounds, genders, experiences — the intersection of all of those things — in order to create a teaching community that can foster learning with a diverse student population. We need teachers and leaders who understand the cultural nuances of the children we serve.
  • Research has shown that having more Black teachers helps Black students succeed academically. The impacts include fewer discipline issues, decreased dropout rates and increased academic success.
  • All children benefit from a diverse teaching force, not just children of color. I could go into some details about the research, but this time I’ll speak from the heart with some personal anecdotes. I think back lovingly to the Black teachers who shaped me. There was the amazing Mr. Kendrick Wiley for seventh grade math, Mr. Chastain for AP Physics, and then my keyboarding instructor in high school (remember that class, folks?). Then in graduate school, I had Dr. Juanita Fountain, who left lasting impressions about the importance of education. I remember them so fondly that I can remember their names some 25+ years later.

Here’s What We Can Do About It

This Thursday, September 9th is the #WeNeedBlackTeachers Day of Action. This movement is youth-organized and youth-led, with a goal of making sure Black students see themselves in the teaching force, increasing their ability to reach their full potential in positive and affirming educational spaces. 

And we can all be a part of this movement! Here’s how to join:

  • Share a story highlighting the importance of black teachers on social media this Thursday. 
  • Use the hashtag #WeNeedBlackTeachers.
  • Access a social media kit with graphics. 
  • Find out more.

That’s it! A simple lift to highlight and celebrate the Black teachers who have made a difference in our lives, in hopes that we can draw even more attention to this important issue.

One Last Reminder

I taught at many a school that served all Black and brown kids, though the teaching staff was mostly white. Yes, I loved my kids, I taught my heart out, and we all grew miles and miles.

But I’m pretty sure my students would have grown more if I wasn’t just one more white teacher in front of them. 

I think about that for my daughter, who is biracial. She started school last week, and I can’t help but worry that her teachers don’t look like she does.

When she’s my age looking back, I hope she has more than one hand up when she counts her Black teachers. I’m counting on it. Not because being a white, female teacher (like myself) is a bad thing, but because I want her to see the beautiful brilliance that can be her future as a Black woman.

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