For the final piece of our teacher diversity series, we’re sharing the experiences of those most directly affected by classroom demographics once more: students.
We’re giving students the last word in the final installment of our teacher-diversity series.
In case you missed it, we began with a big endeavor to quantify the issue in our state: “To fully represent today’s students, about 29,500 of Washington’s 64,700 teachers would have to be people of color,” we reported.
In the last few weeks, we’ve been sharing responses from Washington teachers and students to the representation gap and our reporting. We started with one round of responses from educators, another round from students and a second one from teachers.
For the final piece, we’re sharing the experiences of those most directly affected once more: students.
Here’s what we asked them:
- Do you feel your race has ever affected the way teachers interact with you? How?
- Do you think it’s important to have teachers who come from a similar background as you? Why or why not?
- Have you ever had a teacher who was the same race as you? How did it affect your experience in that class?
Because many of these students are minors, we are only identifying them by their first names. Here’s what a few had to say.
Aminah, a high-school senior who identified as black, doesn’t believe her race has ever affected the way educators interact with her, saying she has “always had good relationships” with teachers.
Despite her own good relationships, Aminah still stressed that it’s “highly important” for students to have teachers of similar backgrounds they can relate to. When it comes to students misbehaving in class, for instance, Aminah said teachers of color try to deal with it directly, whereas white teachers in her experience “automatically send a student out of class.”
“Sadly, I’ve never had a black teacher … I had a black [substitute teacher] back when I was a freshman for three days and I realize when I had the black sub I felt even more comfortable in my learning and even enjoyed it,” Aminah wrote. “I understood the content better. I felt comfortable because it was a teacher who talked like me, and taught in a way I can understand.”
Josie, an eighth-grade student in Seattle, identified as white and said her race has definitely affected how teachers interact with her.
“I am white and have noticed that when I do well on something teachers are more likely to congratulate me than my friends of color who also did well,” Josie wrote. “I have also noticed in my language-arts class (which is predominantly black) when we have subs who are white they are more likely to ask me for help than students of color.”
“Almost all of my teachers have been white,” Josie continued. “I have found that the few teachers of color I have had make more of an effort to relate to students and be there for students.”
Leonel, an eighth-grader from Tacoma, identified as Mexican and Salvadorian and said he’s had three teachers of color since kindergarten.
“We talked the same language and we had some stuff in common,” he wrote. “Sometimes it makes me think that other students or adults [of color] would be able to become a teacher.”
Maddie, another eighth-grader, identified as half white and half African American. She is one of the few black students in her Highly Capable Cohort, or gifted program, she said.
“I tend to feel that teachers don’t prioritize my learning as much as white students,” Maddie wrote. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a biracial teacher and it has made it very difficult for me to connect to the curriculum in any class.”
Mariam, a high-school senior who identified as black and Middle Eastern, said she often feels uncomfortable talking with her white teachers outside of class.
“It’s due to the racist comments students make with those same teachers in class, and they do not call it out,” she wrote. “White teachers act as if they don’t hear racist comments being directed at students of color in their presence.”
Mariam went on to say she has had one teacher with the same racial background as her, and he routinely told his students to come to him if they ever experienced racist incidents in school. She felt more at ease in his class, she said, and her grades even went up.
“We, as students, are told to talk to adults about harassment,” Mariam wrote. “However, white teachers don’t seem to care about racist harassment in schools. I would feel more at ease talking to adults about racist comments if they were able to share my experiences.”
Queshdah, a Colville Native American alumnus of Seattle schools, said meeting a Native American teacher made a huge difference in high school.
“It was important for me to learn things only she could teach because of her experiences, and the things she was taught,” Queshdah wrote. “It was culturally grounding to have a Native teacher who could genuinely give me and others a safe place to explore where they come from, and what it means to each student to be Native.”