Mirrors and Windows: Investing in Educators of Color
I teach middle school science and English as a second language (K-5) in Boston Public Schools. I am adopted from El Salvador. Every day, I bring my Latinidad into the classroom so I can be a mirror to my Latino students. Unfortunately, I did not have a teacher of color until I was in high school, and I did not have a professor who identified as Latina until I was in college. I waited 18 years of my academic career until I found a mirror, and it wasn’t until I moved to California in 2006 and found a teaching mentor that I also found a window into how to navigate the teaching profession as a Latina woman.
I am a recent alumna of the Aspiring Latino Leaders Fellowship run by Latinos for Education. According to their recent report, Mirrors for Latinx Students: Attracting and Retaining Latinx Teachers in Massachusetts, 21% of the Commonwealth’s children are Latino but only 3% of its teachers identify as such. In addition, 4 out of 10 Latino teachers leave the classroom within four years, discouraged by “inadequate salaries, colleagues’ biases, and added obligations put on them because of their backgrounds, such as translating for parents.”
Instead of being seen as liabilities, teachers’ backgrounds, experiences, and linguistic diversity ought to be valued as cultural wealth that can be used as a positive investment for all students. Recently, I participated in a panel discussion titled, Moving from Aspirations to Actions: the Investment of Diversity in the Teacher Workforce moderated by John B. King Jr. I was joined by the 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Takeru Nagayoshi, Robert Hendricks III, founder of the He is Me Institute, and Devin Morris, co-founder of The Teachers’ Lounge. The message from educators was clear: We are no longer simply asking for diversity in the teaching force; we’re demanding it.
Simply put: All sectors in the education system must intentionally allocate financial resources to increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the educator workforce. States, districts, and schools must allocate budget line items to address educator diversity. This includes investments in partnerships between homegrown programs and higher education institutions creating an educator pipeline that encourages candidates from the neighborhoods that schools predominantly serve. States and higher institutions need to address debt relief and provide a copious amount of financial assistance of at least 80% or more. There also needs to be incentives and benefits during the recruitment and retention phase. Philanthropists and policymakers need to provide resources to nonprofits and other organizations recruiting and supporting teachers of color. When you allocate financial resources, you are sending the message that not only do you value a teacher, but also the students who see that teacher as their mirror.
What’s more, teacher preparation programs need to provide intentional mentor support for first and second-year teachers providing mirrors and windows for their own teaching candidates. Mentors in my life, particularly BIWOC (Black, Indigenous Women of Color), have kept me in the teaching profession for over 14 years. They have helped me navigate the education sector and, more importantly, they also gave me the space and cultural community I needed in order to emotionally replenish my heart when I was struggling in the classroom. I still lean on this group of powerful women who help me grow as an educator, as a leader, as an agitator, and as a Latinx woman. However, I had to seek them out. I often wonder how things may have been different if I had a mentor early in my career who not only supported my journey as an educator but also nurtured my identity.
Lastly, districts need to build in culturally affirming curriculum and anti-racist practices into both teacher preparation programs but also current school buildings. As Nagayoshi said, “Having a teacher of color or having a diverse faculty isn’t just ‘nice to have’ or a means to an end. We also need discipline reform and the resources for all students, including White students, to grapple with the role of race and the lagging structural racism in our society.” As teachers, we are agents of change. We need to model difficult but necessary conversations and explore our own biases. It is only by holding up mirrors to ourselves that we can truly be that mirror for someone else.
Right now, we are at a precipice in education. In the coming weeks and months, there will be a variety of decisions made that will impact all students, including our most marginalized populations. Let us be mindful that systemic change is intentional and requires contribution and collaboration from a variety of agencies and individuals. We need to move from rhetoric to long-term investment by requiring a sustainable cultural shift. Let us see the receipts.