For school officials, having diverse classroom leadership is another way to enhance student education.
“Just culturally, for the kids to have the opportunity to see and experience and hear stories from people from other cultures, that helps them to understand (what they’re learning),” said World Language Academy Principal David Moody. “We try to develop global-mindedness.”
But on a national level, a study updating original data from a few years ago suggests there’s a decided lack of diversity among teachers, even as that diversity grows among students.
The original brief from the Center for American Progress was released in 2011. Findings in 2014 show the gap between students and teachers grew larger in the three years, with the report finding around half of students are of color. However, it reports teachers of color make up only 18 percent of the teaching profession.
In Georgia, 76 percent of teachers are white. African-Americans make up 17 percent of the profession. On the flip side, only 44 percent of Georgia students are white; African-Americans make up 37 percent, and Hispanics constitute 12 percent.
There are many reasons possible for the divide. Teachers in the K-12 arena are primarily women, and today there are more career options for women than there were generations ago.
“There are multiple scholarships in high-needs fields like engineering, math or science that attract high school students because they have the position to make more money,” Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said, noting Georgia Tech recruits often from Gainesville High’s female students.
Nationally, the divide may also be a continued reflection of integration. When schools were integrated in the 1950s and 1960s, black students often were placed in the white school with white teachers, while their former teachers were left without jobs.
It also may simply be a matter of numbers, with census numbers showing a decline in population growth, including among African-Americans.
“The group in Georgia that’s increasing is the multiracial or ‘other’ category,” Dyer said. “I imagine they will be our teachers in the next 50 years.”
The breakdown of diversity among teachers is higher in Gainesville City Schools than in the state; Dyer estimates around half of school administrators are African-American or Hispanic.
“We have a value for hiring a diverse range of teachers,” she said. “That’s part of our culture. We also have a value for hiring teachers that reflect the race and ethnicities of our students as well.
“Primarily, we have a value for hiring teachers that demonstrate really good teaching skills.”
Attracting teachers from diverse backgrounds has been made easier with the Internet; word-of-mouth and old-fashioned networking works well, too.
“For us, it was really hard at first,” Moody said. As a charter school, World Language Academy immerses students in a dual-language environment, primarily of English and Spanish. They also teach Portuguese, French and Chinese.
“What we found is the teachers’ network is really strong,” he said. “For us, it’s the ability to have teachers who have been in other parts of the world. They’ve networked, met people. So really, word-of-mouth at this point has built the network.”
Dyer said the city system has just hired three Hispanic teachers who are also Gainesville High graduates, the first hired from the original wave of immigration in the 1980s and 1990s.
“It’s interesting to see that all of our straight-out-of-college minority teachers are GHS graduates,” she said. It’s an opportunity to “grow their own” recruits, she said.
To encourage more people from all backgrounds to pursue teaching on a wider level, the American Progress study suggests states and individual school districts develop both scholarship and mentorship programs. It gave the example of a South Carolina initiative designed to attract a more diverse pool of teachers into the state’s lower-performing elementary schools.
Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said studies have shown incentives offered by individual districts don’t increase the talent pool.
“In order to make any widespread impact, policymakers will have to address the issue by creating more inviting pathways into education,” he wrote via email.
“The Hall County School District will continue to hire the most qualified individual for every classroom, regardless of color,” he added.
The study states students respond well when they have a role model in the classroom, stating “teachers of color have demonstrated success in increasing the academic achievement of students of similar backgrounds.”
Ultimately, though, it’s up to the teacher to make the difference — regardless of background.
“(Students) respond well to someone who has a positive relationship with them, and is very open-minded and accepting,” Dyer said. “And that crosses all races.”