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Importance of Having Teachers Who Look Like Their Students

“Research shows that teachers of color help close achievement gaps for students of color and are highly rated by students of all races.” According to the Learning Policy Institute, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) also reports that “although more teachers of color are being recruited across the nation, the pace of increase is slow and attrition rates are high, leaving growing gaps between the demand for such teachers and the supply.”

Benefits of Diversity in the Teaching Workforce

The NAEP research found four major benefits to diversity in the teaching workforce.

  1. Teachers of color boost the academic performance of students of color.
  2. Students of color, along with white students, report having positive perceptions of their teachers of color.
  3. Teachers of color are resources for students in hard-to-staff schools.
  4. Greater diversity of teachers may mitigate feelings of isolation, frustration and fatigue that lead individual teachers of color to leave the profession.

New York Times writer Claire Cain Miller cites research that says “students tend to benefit from having teachers who look like them, especially nonwhite students.” Teacher diversity appears to have a stronger effect on boys who are more likely to be affected by disadvantages like poverty and racism and by positive influences like high-quality schools and role models. The effect also seems to be more marked as students get older.

Miller says it is not entirely clear to researchers why teachers’ gender and race make a difference, but it is likely to be a combination of things. Students tend to be inspired by role models they can relate to, and same-race teachers may be able to better connect with students in a culturally relevant way.

“If Your Teacher Looks Like You, You May Do Better in School”

An NPR article on teacher diversity gives insight into the way students actually think and feel about teachers who look like them and those who do not. Study researchers surveyed more than 80,000 public school students in grades four through eight, in six different states. Students were asked to evaluate how well their teachers led their classrooms, with researchers paying special attention to the race of the students and the teachers. The study found that when students had teachers of the same race, they “felt more cared for, were more interested in their schoolwork, and were more confident in their teachers’ abilities to communicate with them.”

Conversely, students reported lower levels of these feelings and attitudes when they had teachers who did not look like them. These findings support the idea that students do better in school if they view their teachers as role models. And it may be easier to consider your teachers as role models if they look like you.

A 2018 research study by The Education Trust focused “specifically on Latino teachers in the U.S., the correlation between Latino student success and having a Latino teacher, and perspectives of Latino teachers on teaching.” The research demonstrated that Latino teachers used their cultural insight and teaching skills to connect Latino students with education. Students were able to relate to these teachers as role models and adults. This helped Latino teachers empower students and challenge negative stereotypes students may have developed.

Student Demographics in Texas

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) reports that the total student enrollment in public schools in Texas has increased steadily since 1987-88. By the 2017-18 school year, there were 5,399,682 students enrolled in Texas public schools. As this table shows, Hispanic students accounted for the largest percentage of total enrollment in Texas public schools in 2017-18:

Ethnicity Enrollment percentage
Hispanic 52.4
White 27.9
African-American 12.6
Asian 4.4
Multiracial 2.3

Bilingual student enrollment has risen as well. Along with Nevada, Texas ranks second highest in the nation for number of students participating in English Language Learner (ELL) programs. According to the TEA report:

  • In 2017-18, the number of students who are bilingual or indicate that English is a second language rose to 1,015,972, or 18.8% of students.
  • By far the largest percentage of these students — nearly 78% — speak Spanish.
  • Between 2007-08 and 2017-18, the number of students identified as ELLs increased by over 30% across the state.

Texas is divided into 20 Education Service Center (ESC) regions. In nine of the regions, more than 50% of the students are Hispanic. In two of those nine, more than 90% of the students are Hispanic. In addition, of those nine regions, only one lies geographically in the northern part of the state. Four of the nine are located near the southern border.

Teacher Demographics in Texas

While 52.4% of the students enrolled in Texas public schools in 2016-17 were Hispanic, the number of teachers who identified as Hispanic/Latino in that same year was about half that, or 26.5%. More than 76% of the total number of regular classroom teachers and substitute teachers in Texas are female, nearly 60% are white, and 10.22% are black or African American.

Achieve a Curricular Leadership Role by Specializing in Bilingual Education

The state of Texas has a clear need for teachers who look like their students. In the NPR article, study authors Anna Egalite and Brian Kisida consider ways to shrink the achievement gap among diverse populations as well as change attitudes and behaviors about school. They suggest policymakers be mindful of the things students of color say they like about having teachers who resemble them. Only then can practitioners train teachers to communicate with diverse student groups.

The Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction, with a Specialization in Bilingual Education online program from Texas A&M International University is designed to prepare educators for teaching diverse student populations.

Learn more about TAMIU’s online MS in C&I program with a Specialization in Bilingual Education.

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