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October 9, 2000

Today's challenge for educators: Attracting minority teachers

By Jennifer McNulty

The greatest challenge facing educators today is attracting students from a wide range of backgrounds into the teaching profession, said June A. Gordon, author of the new book The Color of Teaching, who gave the keynote address last Friday at the Illinois regional conference of the Association of Teacher Educators.

Student diversity must be met by a diverse teaching force if U.S. schools are to address the needs of all children, said Gordon, adding that all teachers must be prepared to work with the diversity in today's classrooms.

"The number one reason people of color don't go into teaching is family discouragement," said Gordon. Other reasons vary depending on the ethnic group, said Gordon, whose research includes interviews with more than 200 teachers of color across the country, including African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos.

Recurring themes include the image and lack of respect afforded teaching, as well as community influences. In addition, many students of color have had negative experiences in elementary and secondary school, she added. "Racism and the mislabeling of children have a profound and lasting effect on children," said Gordon.

"The image of teaching still remains something that middle-class white women do because they like having summers off, but that is so different from the reality," said Gordon, whose research goal is to build a greater understanding of why students of color do not choose to become teachers. "Understanding the complexity of teaching and portraying the reality of the profession would help correct misperceptions."

Contrary to public perception, teaching is a creative, challenging, and rewarding profession that requires risk-taking and commitment, said Gordon. Starting salaries of $39,000 in the Santa Cruz area rival beginning salaries at universities for assistant professors with doctoral degrees, she said.

Recruiting people of color will require systemic changes, including:

  • Improved K-12 education. "A lot of kids don't have the option of going into teaching because their own educations are inadequate," she said.

  • Increased options for teachers of color. "You can't assume that a Latino teacher will want to work in a Latino community," said Gordon, adding that such "tracking" of teachers is common.

  • Greater awareness of the importance of teaching.

  • K-12 teachers need to encourage their students to go into teaching. "Most teachers go into teaching because they want to transform the lives of children," said Gordon. "That profound experience, which takes place every day in the classroom, needs to be kept at the forefront."

  • Involve parents. "Parents don't necessarily feel a part of school culture, especially working class parents," said Gordon. "The more they understand what is happening at school, the more respect they will have for teachers."

  • Greater awareness of the path of education. "Parents need to understand the system of college-preparatory classes, which is particularly foreign to adults who did not attend college themselves," said Gordon. "They need to know that basically, you have to take math and science in the eighth grade, or your options are diminished."

  • Provide early experiences working with kids. High school and college students can assist in elementary or middle-school classrooms, creating a natural bridge to becoming a teacher.

  • Recruit prospective teachers from the community.

  • Enhance financial aid options for aspiring teachers.

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