Our Stories, Our Struggles, Our Strengths
Perspectives and Reflections From Latino Teachers
America is experiencing a diverse, cultural shift and the teacher workforce is lagging behind: While Latino students make up 25 percent of the U.S. student population, and that percentage is growing rapidly, just 8 percent of the nation’s teachers identify as Latino. And although greater numbers of Latino teachers are entering the classroom, they, like other teachers of color, are leaving the profession at higher rates than their White peers.
Our Stories, Our Struggles, Our Strengths expounds on the challenges of Latino teachers, who are:
- A diverse group with diverse experiences, and identify by their country of origin, their immigration status, their language, and their race;
- Often belittled or perceived as aggressive when they incorporated Latino culture or Spanish language in the classroom, especially when advocating for Latino students and parents;
- Expected to take on additional roles, most often as a translator (even if they did not speak Spanish), but were overlooked for advancement opportunities; and
- Role models for Latino students especially, but still felt inferior and had to validate their ability to teach.
“While research shows that students from all races benefit from being taught by an educator of color, our study shows that the discrimination and implicit bias that Latino teachers face leave them feeling discouraged and perceived as unqualified to be professional educators, which hurts the teachers and in turn students. By listening to and learning from Latino teachers, school leaders can start to create and implement supports and working environments aimed at increasing the number of Latino teachers and retaining them.”
Listening to Latino Teachers
We spoke with more than 90 Latino teachers in a series of nationally representative focus groups, adding rigorous qualitative data to the ongoing national conversation about teacher diversity. The purpose of these focus groups was to better understand Latino teachers’ experiences separate from the broad category of teachers of color, including why they teach, what they believe they bring to the classroom, and what challenges they face in the workplace.
Every discussion was a continuous reminder that Latino teachers are not a monolith: Their experiences based on cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds not only differ from other teachers of color, but also from each other. Yet, despite their differences, they held a common passion for teaching, sharing their culture with all students, and creating empowering spaces and encouraging students to do the same.
To build and maintain a teacher workforce that is representative and capable of serving an increasingly diverse student population, district leaders must pay as much attention to understanding and creating the right conditions to retain Latino teachers as they do to recruiting them.
Why Do Latino Teachers Matter?
Understanding the differences among teachers of color is critical for diversifying the workforce. The Latino men and women educators with whom we spoke represent a multitude of ethnicities, nationalities, and races. They serve as community resources, advocates, role models, and educators, creating empowering and empathic spaces for parents and strengthening educational opportunities for students.
Despite their strengths, however, Latino teachers face discrimination and stereotyping that leave them feeling discouraged and inferior as educators. By examining these dynamic experiences of Latino teachers, all educational stakeholders can begin to develop supports and working environments aimed at increasing the number of Latino teachers in the workforce and, more importantly, retaining them. This is imperative for building a truly diverse workforce capable of serving an increasingly diverse student population.