Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing the reactions and experiences that teachers and students shared with us about diversity — or lack thereof — in their own schools.

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When we published our in-depth look at teacher diversity across the state in December, we invited both students and teachers to tell us how the demographic representation disparity in classrooms has personally affected them.

That joint analysis done by The Seattle Times and The Columbian newspapers found that while nearly 46 percent of those who attended Washington’s public schools last school year were students of color, nearly 89 percent of the state’s teaching force remained white.

“To Washington’s students, that lack of diversity matters — researchers say it can have lasting effects on high-school completion, discipline rates and test scores for students of color,” we reported.

Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and City University of Seattle. Learn more about Ed Lab 

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing the reactions and experiences that teachers and students shared with us about diversity — or lack thereof — in their own schools.

For teachers of color, the questions we asked included:

  • Do you have other non-white colleagues?
  • How does your race affect your connection with students — and also your workload?
  • How is your school district working to keep you around?
  • What else should administrators be doing to make sure you don’t burn out or leave?

For educators who did not identify as teachers of color, we asked:

  • How does your race affect your connection with students?
  • Why do you think teacher diversity matters?
  • Do you think your district is doing enough to better represent your students?

Here’s what a few teachers had to say.

Matthew DeBoer, principal at St. Therese Catholic Academy in Seattle, identified his race as “other, but raised with every iota of white privilege benefiting me.”

“Setting the context that racial diversity on staff matters in our school has gone a long way with parents AND students,” DeBoer wrote. “There are limits to my connections with students and families, but in a faith context, differences are more readily bridged and celebrated than in secular society and contexts. Students need to see themselves in their texts, media, mentors and teachers — this is a proven path to improved outcomes for students of color.”

Dianne Dizon, who identified as Filipino-American, teaches first grade at Bennett Elementary in Bellevue.

“As an Asian-American, I do believe it helps me connect more with students of color since we have something in common,” Dizon wrote. “Trainings show that the district understands that most teachers are white and that fact alone could have an effect on students due to a teacher’s implicit biases towards students of color.”

It would also help if her district had fewer required professional-development meetings that cut into valuable teaching time, Dizon added.

“The school year feels like it ends too late and starts too early,” she wrote. “With all that there is to juggle as a teacher, it feels 10 times more exhausting when there aren’t many coworkers to relate to.”

Joanne Barber said there are no teachers of color at Crestwood Elementary in Kent, where she teaches second grade.

“I am a firm believer in ‘you can’t teach what you don’t know.’ I study diversity, white privilege, culture, and facilitate professional development in my district on the science of implicit bias,” Barber wrote. “Not only does this help students, it helps me (and others I facilitate) to reflect on our practice, teaching culture, and how to better engage with students of color.”

Jeffrey Treistman teaches sixth through eighth grade at Denny International Middle School in Seattle, and has spent “a considerable amount of time learning how to encourage a level of respect with students of color,” he wrote. “There is no reason for any child of color to automatically give respect, in light of the harsh, frequently racist treatment they encounter daily in school and out of school when they enter ‘white spaces.’ ”

When presented with the second question — Why do you think teacher diversity matters? — Treistman, who identified as Judeo-European, began his answer by asking, “Is this question a joke?”

“Obviously, teachers of color do not have to work nearly as hard building mutual respect with their students,” Treistman went on. “Students of color rarely have an opportunity to have a teacher who looks like them. Identity formation is a process that takes many years; role models are crucial in the formation of identity.”