As a lifelong educator, I’m amazed by how quickly some things change in the education world, and how slowly other things—especially diversity within my profession—do.
Hear me out. I recently taught for 25 years, then spent a couple years doing something else, and then started teaching again. And I kinda liked it.
I wasn’t looking to do something else when I accepted the position of continuous improvement specialist at Northside Elementary School, and I also knew I would come back to teaching. The opportunity to fill that specialist role won’t happen again in my lifetime, and the timing was right. The goal from the onset was to do the job so well that it wouldn’t be needed after two years, when the grant funding the position would expire.
Those two years are up and now I am back to the classroom—literally the same one I had before.
The course load is all new and the students are bright young people that have never shared a classroom with me before. Two years ago my fellow English teachers were Sandy, Linda, and Liz but now my colleagues in the department are Arica, Lauren and Bruce. New principal…the whole works.
How does this all happen in just two years?
Take a second and look back at your last two years. What has changed? What could you have changed? I am guessing that I am not alone in dealing with big changes.
I am guessing that I am also not alone at sometimes being shocked about how slow—even nonexistent—change can be. Earlier this fall I was working with some great people as part of a work group focusing on teachers of color at the headquarters for the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership (MnEEP). Speaking of changes, this organization was formerly known as the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership (MMEP), but rebranded last spring to reflect a change in need and focus.
Sitting there as a veteran teacher, it dawned on me: from 1988 to 2015 the percentage of students of color had changed dramatically in my community, and across the state, but the percentage of teachers of color had remained stagnant.
While that realization did not provide a magic answer on how to increase teacher diversity, it did raise an important question: Why have those two percentages not risen in tandem?
How have we NOT seen change in the teacher-student diversity gap in nearly three decades?
Really, can somebody give me a good reason? With our state mired in dire straits concerning both the achievement gap and teacher shortages, why has there been nothing but scattered attention given to recruiting and retaining teachers of color in Minnesota?
Why did I go into teaching? I had an extremely positive experience as a student. End of story.
Are students of color steered away from being educators because their educational experiences are far from positive? Do biased curriculum, assessments and instruction push students of color towards other vocations? Do students of color receive encouragement at the same rate to become teachers?
I can’t take another couple years off so I am going to do what I can: provide an effective and positive educational experience for my students of color and also encourage them to be teachers.
Lee Carlson taught high school English for over twenty years before becoming the continuing improvement specialist at Northside Elementary in St. James, Minn. He’s a former national director for the Cushing’s Support and Research Foundation and state corporate president for Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership, and currently serves as a board member of Education Minnesota, the Minnesota Rural Education Association and Minnesota Education Equity Partnership. Lee’s interested in just about everything—especially hanging out with his wife (who teachers fifth-grade) and three children—but mostly blogs about equity in education, teacher development, leadership and building partnerships.
The MinnCAN blogging fellowship allows Minnesota teachers, administrators and parents to share their thoughts on key education issues. MinnCAN supports fellows seeking to advance the conversation around public education, though fellows' views and opinions are solely their own.