We’re two weeks into sharing responses from Washington teachers and students to the representation gap we reported on in December. This week, we’re back to hearing from teachers.

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We’re two weeks into sharing responses from Washington teachers and students to the representation gap we reported on in December. Nearly 89 percent of the state’s teachers were white last year even as the demographics of their students shifted. That can be a big problem for students of color — you can read the full project to learn why.

We started with one round of responses from educators before sharing insights from students last week. This week, we’re back to hearing from teachers.

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 

Stay tuned for more reactions from students next week.

For teachers of color, the questions we asked included:

  • Do you have other nonwhite 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.

Aidé Villalobos teaches second grade at Evergreen Elementary in Shelton, Mason County. She identified as Mexican and said her school is a dual-language school, where Spanish is taught half the day and English the other half of the day.

“The Spanish-teaching teachers are usually nonwhite and the English-teaching teachers are usually Caucasian,” she wrote. “My students are mostly of Guatemalan and Mexican descent. Because our upbringing was similar, students can relate to many things I say, including being an immigrant and being an English learner. I speak Spanish so speaking with families who speak Spanish greatly aids with communication.”

“My school district does not provide any stipends for teaching in Spanish or for being bilingual,” Villalobos went on. “Spanish-language teachers spend a lot of time translating things that would normally get translated by someone who is getting paid, such as notes and announcements to parents … Admin should be targeting specific teachers to help retain them or prevent burnout … [and] should also be looking at teachers who have experience/expertise in areas of language acquisition and cultural competence and invite them to help make decisions that impact our language learners and all other policies that impact nonwhite families.”

Elizabeth Schoene, who identified as white, teaches at South Seattle College. Although her work isn’t inside a K-12 classroom, teaching a broad range of students has given her perspective on the issue.

“I think it really matters to have diversity to change the narrative that only white men do science and math,” she wrote. “Students need to see that people from all different background do science and are successful in science careers. Teachers also bring their experiences into their teaching, so having more diverse teachers will help the profession grow and adapt, and ultimately better serve our students.”

There are simple things her school could do to increase diversity among faculty, Schoene said, but often there is resistance to paying for them. Advertising job openings with different professional societies, particularly ones for underrepresented groups in education, would “significantly improve the diversity of our hiring pools,” she wrote.

Alison Short is a K-5 reading teacher at Bell Elementary in Kirkland. She identified as half Filipino.

“My Filipino students get very excited when they find out I’m Filipino — it feels like a great point of connection,” she wrote. “However, I do not feel it increases my workload. The school district isn’t doing anything in particular to keep me around; however, they have created a District Equity Team to address this issue among others. Administrators need to make sure they take a lot of issues off teachers’ plates so teachers can focus on providing quality instruction and building relationships with students.”

Josh Frank, an instructional coach in Shoreline who works with students between kindergarten and sixth grade, also identified as white.

“The teaching materials I have easiest access to are often built around a Eurocentric perspective,” Frank wrote. “They minimize, dehumanize, or ignore the lived experience of people of color. A major danger of this is that these materials fit neatly into my own world experience and I know that I am often blind to the missing stories that are not told/explored. My whiteness risks precluding access for students to learn in a way that honors their lived experience.”

Kanoe C. Vierra, a teacher and dean of students at Scriber Lake High School in Edmonds, identified as Native Hawaiian. Vierra teaches a course called “Entry English,” a required class for all new students that often means he is their first teacher at the school.

“Our district is making a concerted effort to keep our teachers of color,” he wrote. “However, some administrators don’t really attempt or even try to build a relationship with the teachers of color in their building.” So diverse teachers, he added, need to turn to each other for guidance and support.