• Is Diversity Of Teaching Staff The Real Problem?

    May 23, 2024
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    I've heard this myth so many times in my career. In the name of diversity, school administrations and school boards bend over backwards to hire a "diverse" teaching force. The rationale is repeated over and over, "kids learn best from people who look like them."

    It's a strange statement considering the fact that during my years as a student and a teacher I never saw evidence that it was true.

    Here's the truth. Kids learn best from master teachers regardless of their background, skin color, nationality, gender, etc. I worked with many of these master teachers throughout my career. From Brookings Institute:

    Research typically finds that teachers are the most important component of formal education, and quality instruction one of the biggest contributors to student learning. A 2018 World Bank report on global and regional assessments in Africa found that teacher knowledge, teaching practice, and instructional time were the “most consistent sources of impact on student learning.” Teachers often get to know—and become invested in—children and their families for months, sometimes years at a time and teachers’ efforts not only influence students’ academic achievement but also their long-term success and well-being.

    Someone please tell the State of Maryland because they have hung student success on something very different; "diversity." It would be fine if diversity meant different approaches to teaching, tools for working with students who have different needs, or even novel and creative ways to help students achieve. But the state is determined to link teacher quality by matching of teacher's physical, superficial characteristics to those of their students.

    Here's a troubling headline from Maryland Matters:

    Two-thirds of Maryland teachers are still white, MSDE data shows - Maryland Matters

    I don't know who wrote the headline, but they may want to understand what this sounds like. It's as though those white teachers who are "still white" need to change to a different color. Of course, we know that the headline is bemoaning the fact that two thirds of the teachers in Maryland are White. From the article:

    Maryland’s teacher workforce still remains majority white, according to data recently released by the state Department of Education, but advocates are hopeful that new laws could help turn that around.

    The most striking thing about this sentence is that "advocates" want to create "laws" that will ensure that the majority of teachers in Maryland are not White. What would a law about that be? Would it be a mandate for systems to hire teachers who EXACTLY match the demographics of the students in their schools? Would it be against the law for a school district to hire certain races as teachers? What would be the penalty for school system who hires too many White teachers or not enough Black teachers?

    Sounds like good old discrimination and racism to me. Of course, no one has suggested that. Yet.

    An interesting part of this drive for racial quotas in the teaching profession is that we are currently suffering a teacher shortage in Maryland. In a conversation with a local education official last Fall, I asked about this. If the teacher shortage means that we can't man the classrooms we have, does it really matter what race the teacher is if you can alleviate that shortage? The answer was no.

    I think most parents and students would agree, fully staffing our classrooms with competent and quality teachers is more important than what race those teachers are. Ask any parent this question, "Given the choice, would you rather your child have a teacher that is the same race or would you rather your child have the most effective teacher despite their race." You know what the answer would be.

    Of course, the Maryland State Teachers Association can't stop themselves from spreading the diversity lie. Their misguided notion that students learn better from teachers who are the same race is just another premise used to distract from the real problems in U.S. public schools.

    The Unions are fully committed to this myth, even using marginal scenarios to promote the "diversity above all" cause.

    Cheryl Bost, President of the Union, provides an example by claiming that Black teachers, because they are the minority in schools, are often overworked. From Maryland Matters:

    For example, Bost said, if a Black teacher is one of the few in a school, that person would be asked to help assist a fellow teacher, administrator or other employee if there was a situation with a Black student. Or if a teacher is bilingual, that person is “often pulled out the class to interpret” for a parent who may not speak English.

    That creates a hardship … which is unfair to those educators of color,” Bost said.

    By Bost's logic, if we have more Black and Hispanic teachers, we won't have teachers asking other Black or Hispanic teachers for assistance. It's a joke.

    The premise that Black teachers are called in to deal with Black students and Latino teachers are pulled out of class to "interpret" for parents, is simply not true.

    First, I know that many schools have White teachers who speak Spanish as it becomes more important to speak another language as a teacher. Many schools also have paid Spanish speaking staff who specifically help English Language Learners and their parents in the schools. They are the ones, regardless of their ethnic background, called upon to help interpret.

    Also, in my thirty years in the schools I have NEVER seen a Black teacher specifically called upon to deal with a Black student because that teacher was Black. This lie from Bost is right up there with those of a President who fought Corn Pop and whose Uncle was eaten by cannibals.

    It's my experience that those who have good relationships with kids in a "situation" are called in to help, and it doesn't matter what color that teacher or staff member is.

    The truth doesn't matter to when it comes to the Union pursuing their progressive agenda which leads them to getting more members, more money, and more power. So, these hypotheticals drive the narrative that allows legislators to create bills and curry favor with the unions all at the same time:

    Some of the bills that Maryland recently passed are not necessarily bad ideas when it comes to recruiting more teachers of ALL colors. For example, the Educator Shortage Act provides a $20,000 yearly stipend for eligible student teachers to address the state’s teacher shortage. To qualify for the stipend, students must be enrolled in a teacher preparatory program and commit to work two years in a high-needs school in Maryland. (Maryland Matters).

    It's not a bad idea but it's been tried before. When I graduated college, a similar program was offered to students in teacher education programs if they would agree to teach in Baltimore City after graduation. The result? When young teachers started teaching in the City and realized how awful the City schools were, many decided to either quit teaching altogether or to leave the city after the required time and go to greener pastures in other county school systems. Some even left early and paid back the money they were given.

    The other problem being cited by the State is that student teaching and passing competency exams are too costly and difficult for Black or Hispanic students. Again, the initial assumption is that these costs/tests affect Black and Hispanic students more than White students and that eliminating these costs/tests will get more "diversity" into the teaching profession. I'm not sure it will. Teaching is special profession that requires passion, not mere economics.

    As far as student teaching goes, student teachers are usually placed either near their homes or near their colleges to eliminate the financial burden of travel or housing. As with any internship, the cost should be the responsibility of both the college AND the student. Also, how about directing funds towards the school systems who take on student teachers so they can "pay" the interns and provide housing if needed?

    The assumptions about the PRAXIS exam are insulting to minority students. The implication is that the test is too rigorous and costs too much for them. This is as racist as the Governor of New York saying that Black kids don't know what computers are or the President saying that “poor kids” are “just as talented as white kids." But, if cost is an issue for anyone, the state could easily remedy it by offering a free PRAXIS exam to first time test takers.

    What does the State do?

    They do away with competency tests for teaching candidates and instead promote "alternative pathways."

    I can agree that the PRAXIS exam does not guarantee that a person will be a good teacher. No one knows for sure until a teacher starts actually teaching. However, it DOES guarantee that a person has basic math, English and other content skills needed to teach others. How can you teach math if you can't do basic math? How can you teach English if you can't speak English correctly? Science? Reading? History?

    I can also agree that sometimes great teachers come from those who have pursued a different profession for a while after college. However, the great teachers I knew from other professions were not working at McDonalds or a clothing store as a profession when they decided to teach. They were military, people in industry, etc. They were often accomplished in their original field. They were also few and far between. Their numbers will neither solve the teacher shortage or the proclaimed "lack of diversity" among our teachers. There just aren't enough of them.

    So, why this push towards diversity in our teaching staff?

    Over the past forty years as student academic achievement has declined and teacher shortages have been the norm, the Progressives, Teachers Unions and education bureaucracy have refused to face the reality of the situation. During that time, student behavior, violence in the schools, and additional classroom diversionary programs are making teachers' jobs more difficult.

    Instead of removing distractions, holding students accountable, respecting teachers and allowing them adequate time to do the job they signed on for, government, the unions and bureaucracy approach the problem in a way that will benefit them with more money and power but will never solve the problem.

    How DO we solve the problem?

    First, take the focus off diversity of teachers and concentrate on enlisting young people who want to teach, who love the idea of working with kids, and who are drawn to a job where they can have summers free and holiday breaks. Teaching is a calling not a jobs program.

    Second, schools need to "clear the decks" of all the programs they implement that have nothing to do with academics. I'm not talking about art, physical education or music programs; I'm talking about all the programs instituted by government officials to appease special interest groups. For example, do we really need classes in activism? Gender studies? Divisive CRT?

    Students need to learn how to read, do math, write, know history and civics, science and of course, the arts. Teachers need the time to teach, reasonable class sizes, and planning time. Teaching should be so valuable that almost NOTHING interrupts instructional time. Duties should be covered by administration, not teachers on their lunch or planning time.

    Increasing teacher pay is another incentive. But we can't increase pay while we don't give teachers the tools they need to effectively do their jobs. Give teachers options to increase their pay via multiple benchmarks, student achievement, teacher work ethic, etc.

    One big way to bring people into teaching and keep them there is to ensure that teachers are protected from violence in their classrooms. Students who are violent or disrupt classrooms must be dealt with using real consequences, not a pat on the back and a candy bar. Teachers are there to teach, not curb violence. Violent students need to be in alternative placements so teachers can do their job and students can learn.

    Finally, we need to remember that people only value what they have to earn. Teaching should not be the "easy option" for college students. These are people who will be molding the minds of our most precious population, children. They will be role models and inspirations to thousands of kids. If anything, good teachers should be valued so much that we make qualifying for the occupation rigorous. People of all races who have burning a desire to teach will do whatever they need to do to become a teacher.

    Those are the teachers we want and need, regardless of their race, gender, or ethnicity. They are the teachers our children deserve.

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    Jan Greenhawk

    Jan Greenhawk is a former teacher and school administrator for over thirty years. She has two grown children and lives with her husband in Maryland. She also spent over twenty-five years coaching/judging gymnastics and coaching women’s softball.
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