Walk the halls of any elementary school building in metropolitan Denver and you will hear and see a diversity that is not reflected in the teaching staff, and every year it is getting worse.
The sounds of laughter in English and Spanish are the norm. You are as liable to see braids as you are hijab, see chocolate-colored cheeks as peaches-and-cream. In some neighborhood schools, the majority of the school’s student population are either Hispanic or African-American, with many more cultures interspersed between, yet the teaching staff does not reflect this.
It is conspicuously unimportant to the powers-that-be who are hiring and dumping teachers mainly in the light of a dwindling budget, but also for the politically correct reasoning behind experimental reforms and No Child Left Behind legislation, which is actually leaving thousands behind. Take a peek at your child’s yearbook – the staff pages – and see if your school is any exception. Congratulations if it is.
Why does any of this matter? Most teachers are called to the profession because of an underlying dedication to the concept that all children can learn, and anyone with training, persistence and heart – regardless of ethnicity – can encourage and accelerate that learning in each and every child. That is a laudable concept. It is only, however, part of a larger picture.
What does it say to a child to consistently see that almost everyone who “teaches” is of one race, and almost everyone who “learns” is of another? Assuming that one plus one still equals two, it paints a very sharp picture of what kind of person is considered knowledgeable and what kind of person is not – and gives parents one more prejudice they need to offset during the afterschool hours.
Why do we still see in Denver, for example, staffs of thirty with only two minorities represented? Why are teacher orientations throughout the region remarkable for their homogeneity? Why are teaching staffs throughout the Denver region not more diverse?
There have been strange arguments from administrators addressing this question. Answers have ranged from “not enough people of color apply” to “Black people don’t like Colorado – it’s too cold for them.” Factor in the alarming budget cuts of the past two years that have left a disproportionate number of Hispanic, Black and older teachers of all backgrounds looking for positions despite dedication and results, and the inquiry becomes more insidious. What is going on?
Our children need dedicated and well-educated teachers who are allowed by the bureaucrats to teach and nurture excellence, regardless of color, race or ethnicity. Everyday you will witness extraordinary dedication and stamina from teachers whose first experience with the school’s population might have been only a few years prior, perhaps during a stint as a student teacher. We need to say thank you to them, however, they still need support. These teachers form bonds with families the best they can, in Montbello, in south Aurora, on Federal Boulevard, wherever. They crunch numbers and build relationships with their students, many of whom are gifted, many of whom need extreme help academically. These teachers work hard to move our kids to excellence everyday. The problem arises when there is no effort to ensure that these dedicated and well-educated teachers reflect the familial experiences of the children they teach, or even just the cultural markers that our children learn to recognize as their own.
Our children need better. Our kids deserve better. They need to know that, when their family is struggling to survive and thrive using tried-and-true skills honed within their neighborhoods, that the teacher will take note, understand and yet expect excellence. They deserve to know that their hard work and persistence will someday pay off, and they can expect to see teachers who look like their mothers and fathers, highly prized and respected right along with everyone else. You cannot underestimate the value involved here.
We are championing a better-educated and better-prepared future populace made up of the children we nurture today, and we are not putting out the effort necessary to ensure our children recognize excellence in all its diverse forms. We need to fix this now.