I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the lack of diversity in the teacher workforce, paying close attention to the root causes and potential solutions. It’s complicated because, of the roughly 50 teachers I interviewed and the hundreds of articles and books I read on the topic, teachers want to be good teachers.
They don’t want to be the Black teacher, or the white one, the man, the woman, or what have you. Granted, our race, gender, social class, and sexual orientation are inescapable. Nevertheless, very few people with whom I spoke were interested in focusing on their identity as anything other than a teacher.
A recent article from the Washington Post on teacher diversity emphasizes race, but that’s only a small part of the issue. In addition to a race, we are also a gender, social class, religion, and sexual orientation. All of these identities intersect in complicated ways. We can have a teacher, say, from a minority racial status, but then we see that teacher in practice confirm and reinforce traditional gender stereotypes. From my experience, for example, there are plenty of Black teachers with whom I’ve worked that emphasize pink and dresses for girls, blue and sports for boys.
Focusing on the race of our teachers is important, but I think we need to encourage a greater diversity of ideologies in teaching as well. We need teachers from diverse cultural and political backgrounds, from higher income and lower income families. We need teachers who are Muslim or Atheist. Simply put, we need teachers who cut across all cultural or social boundaries.
Race is an obvious focal point. Bodies are easily marked by race. Seeing more Black or Latino educators would be obvious to any outside observer. But having a Black or Latino educator, would that guarantee a rich and diverse learning experience, or would those teachers reify oppressive curricula, or underscore certain traditions within education that have been long disproved?
We can all pat ourselves on the back when we see a diversity of faces in schools. But diversity of that kind, in education at least, is only skin deep.