OPINION | More teachers of color needed

As an African American male, I understand I’m a minority in education. Less than two percent of our nation’s teachers are black men, while fifteen percent of the country’s public school students are. While our most effective educators come from all backgrounds, those who share our students’ backgrounds can have a profound additional impact as mentors and role models. In our low-income communities where a majority of students are African-American and Latino, our students need to see their faces and experiences reflected in more of their teachers and leaders. I was glad to see this topic being discussed in the March 22nd piece: Race Matters for Teachers and Students.

Becoming a teacher and a school administrator has been a very personal journey for me. I joined Teach For America because I wanted to be part of a movement improving education opportunities for children in under-resourced communities. I felt it was an opportunity to share my story with students about what academic excellence can unlock and to work alongside teachers who feel the same way—my colleagues of all races and ethnicities who are committed to expanding opportunities for their students. Growing up here as the child of immigrants, there were always high expectations for me and my three siblings. It was my parents and teachers together who played a critical role in breaking the cycle of low expectations.

As an education community, we can start with ramping up our recruitment and retention of talented individuals of color—which I know local institutions of higher education are focusing on, as is Teach For America (this year in Minnesota, 25 percent of new teachers with TFA are individuals of color). Part of that recruitment means ensuring we’re engaging Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions and campus-based and national organizations serving diverse student populations like the United Negro College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.

We need more teachers of color, to be sure, but let’s be careful not to create false divides. All teachers are important allies in this work. As an administrator, I work every day with educators from many backgrounds who are here to teach and to serve, not to save. Together, we must commit to doing more to inspire our emerging leaders of color to lead our classrooms for the next generation and beyond.

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Luwam Arefe's picture
Luwam Arefe

Luwam Arefe is the Vice Principal at KIPP Stand Academy.