Why Hispanic Teachers Are Integral to Addressing Racial Disparities in Education

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Imagine a school where its teaching body actually looked like its students. Today´s schools still don´t represent the demographical figures of a country where over half of its student population is non-white. More importantly, aside from dreaming of a harmonious visual of a multicultural classroom that included the teacher, if there were more Hispanic teachers in our schools, Hispanic students would simply perform better academically, studies have shown. 

Students benefit from having teachers that reflect their cultural, racial, and linguistic backgrounds. For example, somebody who knows a bit of Spanish perhaps or about songs or pop cultural icons that Hispanics admire can make a difference. Recognition of such cultural background information could help in creating numerous bonding moments between pupil and teacher. 

Yet there is a concerning demographic mismatch between teachers and students in our schools reports The Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford. For Hispanic teachers and students this is especially true. Let’s begin with the obvious, Hispanic students comprise the largest minority demographic in the nation’s schools, accounting for 22 percent of students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Sadly, only 9 percent of the teacher workforce is of Hispanic origin in comparison.

“I find that schools with a higher share of Hispanic teachers tend to have a higher percentage of Hispanic students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses,” says Diana Quintero, a research analyst at the Brown Center on Education Policy, in her blog. “Though these results do not prove a causal relationship, they suggest a potential channel through which attracting and retaining teachers of color — particularly Hispanic teachers — might benefit students.” 

Though white teachers may have empathetic capabilities with non-white students — I certainly grew up with ones who encouraged me to work hard — evidence suggests that there are teachers whose perceptions about a student´s ability and behavior are influenced by the race of the student. That’s why more Hispanic teachers are needed; they are more likely to motivate Hispanic students to push themselves harder and reach for higher goals than those that society expects of them, which is often less. 

When it came time to look at colleges to apply to, I remember my high school guidance counselor in Long Island, NY recommending I only apply to colleges that matched my boringly average grade point average. I was one of the few Hispanics in a mostly white high school. But thankfully, I didn’t listen to her. I wound up applying to a top-notch school and got accepted thanks to the push of my Colombian mother, who always insisted on aiming high, no matter what everyone else said I was capable of or not. I would go on to land on the Dean’s List at college several times and bonded with Latinx professors that made me feel special. 

It’s often the case that teachers and students of similar backgrounds, whether it’s a Puerto Rican teacher and a Venezuelan-American student, will have more potential for a deep and meaningful cultural exchange than a white and a non-white. Latinx teachers are more likely to plan lessons that are culturally sensitive to their non-white students as well, serving as what the academic world calls “cultural translators.” Furthermore, a study showed that if teachers are familiar with students’ cultural backgrounds, they might be less likely to succumb to unconscious bias stemming from negative stereotypes that alter the ways that teachers interact with students especially if they hold stereotypes related to perceived academic ability. 

Recruiting Latinx Teachers for a Multicultural Future

Not only are Hispanics the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority in the nation; according to studies, they are expected to be one-third of the student population by 2025. This means that it’s critical that we all speak up and demand that the future of this population is academically successful by way of diversifying our workforce of teachers. 

According to the Pew Research Center, while in the last three decades Hispanic teachers have outnumbered blacks as the second-largest racial or ethnic group among U.S. public school teachers, there is still a ways to go in balancing the demographics. Their studies show that between 1987-88, there were about three times as many black public school teachers (191,000) as Hispanic teachers (69,000). Since then, the number of Hispanic teachers increased about fivefold to 338,000, while the number of black teachers increased by 34 percent, to 256,000. As stated earlier, while Hispanics still account for just 9 percent of teachers, they have accounted for a sizable share of the growth in teachers since 1987-88. 

But it’s still not enough.

Hispanic Teachers Are More Likely to Quit Teaching

What’s troubling is that once schools are able to find talented Hispanic teachers to hire, it’s not so easy to keep them on staff. Non-whites have higher rates of leaving teaching than whites. Two reasons that this might be happening has to do with better paid opportunities offered elsewhere or Hispanic teachers’ frustration with the economically poor and limited autonomy district they were assigned to, which is where most nonwhite teachers wind up. The Learning Policy Institute reported that schools that provided more discretion and autonomy to classroom teachers, as well as schools with higher levels of faculty input into school decision-making, had lower levels of minority teacher turnover. 

Another factor that impacts Hispanic teachers from leaving their schools is the leadership. If there are other teachers of color in their school, this can make them feel more supported. Reports show that teachers of color report higher job satisfaction and lower turnover rates when their principal shares their racial or ethnic background, but similar minority representation exists within school leadership. 

It all seems to point to a vicious cycle: As students, Latinx youth rarely have  a chance to connect with a Latinx teacher to soften the blows and prepare them for the challenges they may face in the future. And when and if they manage to get placement as teachers in schools as adults, they often wind up feeling underrepresented on the school board. So how do we close, or even narrow the mismatch that exists? Our school systems must push for more preparation, recruitment, and retention strategies to increase the Latinx teacher population across the country starting today.

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