Sharif El-Mekki – The Value of Teacher Diversity

Sharif El-Mekki
CEO & Founder, The Center for Black Educator Development

My first blog on Eduwonk’s page this week was about the concocted controversy around Critical Race Theory (CRT) and how it has infiltrated the national schools narrative. But this isn’t the only CRT that has been foisted by the far-right as a multicultural bogeyman to at once inflame White anxiety and erode progress toward a more equitable and just society.

Culturally responsive teaching (crt) has also faced the harsh, reality-warped klege lights of conservative media this year – and in the past. And as blinding as that super trouper can be, we cannot confuse the issue: to effectively teach all students we need all teachers to be prepared with the understanding and adaptability to meet those children where they are at this moment in time, in the wake of the history that they and their communities have survived.

That’s also why teacher diversity is so important. There is a mountain of evidence of the positive impacts of having more Black and Brown teachers in the classroom.  Research shows higher graduation rates, reduced dropout rates, fewer disciplinary issues, more positive views of schooling and better test scores when students have a Black or Brown teacher during their schooling.   A growing number of schools, districts and teacher prep programs are working  to increase teacher diversity as a result. Our organization is proud to work with many of them and I hope to see the trend continue. And there’s an awful lot of work to be done.Currently, Black teachers make up just 7 percent of the profession and about 2 percent identify as Black men.  Add to this the fact that a large majority–more than 6 in 10–of teacher prep grads say they feel unprepared to teach in classrooms where Black and Brown students are the majority and we cannot just write off the mounting attacks on Critical Race Theory and/or culturally relevant teaching and by extension, our efforts to diversify the teaching force. 

Curiously, or, perhaps, tellingly, those who are most vocal against the two CRTs and getting more diversity in the teaching force argue that the focus on race is the thing that is driving division.  They want a “colorblind” approach, they say, to match how they purport to see the world.

Well, color me confused!

How is it that these virtuous acolytes of colorblindness are always so on the mark in attacking efforts to liberate Black and Brown people specifically?  Their quivers remain full of deadly arrows that target and undermine initiatives involving housing, economics, the (in)justice system, the (mis)education system, etc.

The reality is that these people can’t help but tell on themselves–and we should listen to what they’re telling us.  The louder they criticize our efforts the more they prove the need for our work. They also prove what our students have to lose if we are unsuccessful.

The scale and stakes of our challenge is simply too great to not confront.  Our students need teachers that look more like them and better understand to create a world where understanding and equity are the norm rather than a lofty aspiration.  We are literally undoing centuries of history that produced these imbalances and their attendant cultural misunderstandings.  So we also must interrogate the efforts to undermine our work and at the same time double down on it.

We can do the work, but we all need to get to it.