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Answer Sheet: How to Diversity America's Teaching Corps

For many years, there have been calls for more diversity in the teaching corps of America’s public schools. Public school teachers across the United States are far more likely to be White than their students, even though data shows that the majority of students in public schools are not White. And research is clear that Black and White students benefit from having a diversity of teachers.

A new handbook on this subject has just been published by the American Educational Research Association that explains trends in research, policy and practice. It was written and edited by Conra D. Gist and Travis J. Bristol, who have written the following post. Gist is an associate professor of teaching and teacher education at the University of Houston’s College of Education. Bristol is an associate professor of teacher education and education policy at the School of Education at the University of California at Berkeley.


By Conra D. Gist and Travis J. Bristol

Unless school and policy leaders are able to effectively recruit, prepare and retain teachers of color and Indigenous teachers (TOCIT), the nation’s rapidly diversifying student population will not fulfill its academic potential, putting students’ and the nation’s future at risk, researchers say. At least half of students in U.S. public school classrooms are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), while only 19 percent of teachers are, according to federal data. Research shows that having BIPOC teachers in the classroom has a positive impact on student achievement, engagement, and other outcomes, especially for students of color and Indigenous students.

However, there is no simple solution to diversify the teaching profession. What’s needed is a comprehensive, evidence-based approach that addresses the many dimensions of a teacher’s career. Pinning our hopes on any single policy will not address the pressing problem of the severe demographic mismatch between BIPOC students and their teachers.

It will do no good to recruit more BIPOC teachers unless we simultaneously take steps to retain these educators by fixing our leaky teacher development pipeline. Patching the leaks would enable greater numbers of aspiring teachers to complete their preparation programs, become fully certified and licensed, and find schools in which they are culturally affirmed and sustained.

Moreover, it’s also important to acknowledge the ties that bind and distinguish BIPOC teachers. These teachers share sociopolitical histories that shape how they enact transformative and community-based practices. At the same time, BIPOC teachers embody a range of complex and differing experiences that require uniquely tailored approaches that effectively prepare them for the profession.

The nation will struggle to retain BIPOC teachers unless policymakers and practitioners provide them with better early-career support and improve their working conditions. Otherwise, given the troubling turnover trends among BIPOC teachers, any gains in new-teacher ethno-racial diversity will disappear within a few years.

To develop a better understanding of the challenges involved in increasing teacher ethno-racial diversity, and of how to overcome them, we led the development of the “Handbook of Research on Teachers of Color and Indigenous Teachers,” published by the American Educational Research Association. The handbook synthesizes what is known in this area and identifies promising trends in research, policy and practice.

Here are important takeaways for school and policy leaders looking to effectively diversify their teacher workforce.

BIPOC teachers are not a monolithic group.

It is important that the unique cultural experiences and societal challenges facing Indigenous, Asian American, Black, and Latinx pre- and in-service teachers are not overlooked. In the handbook, we explore how markers of differences among BIPOC teachers — such as class, nationality, immigrant status, the presence or absence of a disability, and how language use shapes identity — can inform how BIPOC teachers participate in K-12 schooling. Reform efforts that do not consider these differences are likely to be ineffective and undermine efforts to diversify the educator workforce. To address this issue, education leaders should implement initiatives, such as racial affinity groups and tailored learning communities, that honor these differences in ways that can improve the teaching and learning experiences of BIPOC educators.

The real-life implications of race and structural racism present challenges for the academic and professional development of BIPOC teachers.

The handbook examines the cultural narratives, institutional practices, disciplinary policies, and interpersonal dynamics that shape BIPOC teachers’ professional lives to demonstrate the complex web of challenges they typically face. Without taking this close examination, the field may continue to cultivate teacher development practices that are dehumanizing for BIPOC teachers. To confront this challenge, it will be critical for educator preparation programs and school district professional development systems to redesign their strategies and operations. This will require valuing the knowledge systems and experiences of BIPOC educators, recruiting and preparing culturally responsive and sustaining teacher educators and school leaders, and addressing inequities in policies and practices from recruitment and retention all the way through retirement.

The psychological, social and emotional experiences of BIPOC teachers must be holistically addressed to support their ability to thrive, remain and be effective as educators.

The handbook scholars explore the psycho-socioemotional burdens that BIPOC teachers bear, what can be done to mitigate the effects of educational and professional inequities, and what kinds of structural, institutional and policy reforms can make K-12 education a healthier work environment for them. This is especially timely given the massive teacher shortages taking place across the nation and requires a commitment to reimagine ways that professional learning for BIPOC teachers can be responsive to the environment in which these educators work. A few ways school districts can intentionally commit to the holistic development of BIPOC teachers involve collaborating with mental health and social work groups to support their psycho-socioemotional health, funding BIPOC educator-led professional development networks, and addressing toxic school cultures and policies that dehumanize BIPOC teachers.

Unique local problems facing teachers can be addressed by forming intentional, strategic and genuine research-practice partnerships with nearby education scholars to study teacher ethno-racial diversity.

If we hope to understand and overcome the complex challenges involved in recruiting, preparing, mentoring, supporting and retaining BIPOC teachers, then we need to pay attention to the local problems they face, and we need to devise solutions that meet their specific needs. This will require researchers to work in healthy and sustainable partnerships with local teachers, administrators and other stakeholders to identify and address the most pressing problems confronting teacher ethno-racial diversity.

Of course, strategies must be supported by infrastructure and policies that fund and implement strategies to address educator ethno-racial diversity. Such policies would support high-quality preparation pathways, tailored hiring and placement strategies coupled with culturally responsive and equity-focused mentorship and induction programs, and sustainable professional development and leadership opportunities that engage talented BIPOC educators.

No single strategy or policy will increase the number of effective BIPOC teachers entering and remaining in the profession. The handbook’s research supports a comprehensive approach — one that systematically addresses teacher mentorship, professional development, the design of preparation programs, teacher recruitment, teacher retention, policy influences on teachers, pedagogical and leadership practices, and the influence of minority-serving institutions. This is a promising place to begin a much-needed process of change for the nation’s future.

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Valerie Strauss

Valerie Strauss is the Washington Post education writer.

Conra D. Gist

Dr. Conra D. Gist is an associate professor of teaching and teacher education in the College of Education at the University of Houston. Her research focuses on un...

Travis J. Bristol

Travis J. Bristol is an associate professor of teacher education and education policy at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Education.&n...