Students who see themselves represented within the classroom are more likely to connect with their lessons and succeed inside the classroom. Unfortunately, many Connecticut students do not have this opportunity.
As teachers and advocates of education, it is essential that we continue to look for ways to increase teacher diversity and improve the classroom experience for all students.
The diversity within the classroom, not only in terms of race, but also in terms of gender, allows students to experience lessons in different ways. Acquiring knowledge from multiple different perspectives allows students to understand different viewpoints, while providing unique perspectives and approaches to different topics.
As a black teacher, several parents alerted me to the fact that I was the first male teacher their child had ever had, and that my experience and teaching style brought them out of their shell. and broadened their interest in their academics. A parent recently told me that his son was so excited to be in my class next year because he’s never had a teacher like him. Stories like this excite me and validate my reasons for teaching and working with students, while working for change.
Recently, I participated in a lobbying day in Washington DC as part of the National Council of Teacher Leaders of Educators for Excellence. At this event, we focused on fundraising Hawkins Centers of Excellence Programwhich aims to increase the number of BIPOC teachers in the classroom by providing competitive grants for the reform and expansion of teacher preparation programs at historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.
In my experience, most politicians we spoke to were very receptive to these ideas, agreeing on the importance of teacher diversity in the classroom. However, accepting is one thing, doing is another. We must continue to work to ensure that those legislators who support our proposals actually provide the necessary support and funding to ensure teacher diversity.
With this diversity of teachers, however, comes the importance of teacher retention in our Connecticut school districts. Once we have the programs in place to welcome new teachers into the classroom, our schools need to make sure they are doing all they can to keep them in the classroom. There are obvious solutions, such as increased pay and benefits, overtime pay, and recognition for our hard work. But another thing to consider is the importance of empowering educators to teach the curriculum in a way that resonates with their students.
I am empowered and encouraged to adjust my lesson plans as necessary to help my students learn in the best way for them, rather than teaching with a cookie-cutter approach that assumes all students learn the same way. It not only makes me want to stay and continue to teach and improve my lesson plans, but it also allows me to add my personality to my lesson plans and teach what inspires my students the most. It also helps to positively influence student outcomes, as each teacher’s experience will allow them to bring something different to the classroom, and students will have more opportunities to align with what they are learning based on of various teaching styles.
An imperative part of teacher retention is understanding that students come from different backgrounds and learn in different ways. We need to ensure our teachers have the resources and tools to teach all students effectively.
Increasing diversity in our classrooms is so vital to the experience of our students and to the future of education. If our students don’t see themselves reflected in their lessons, how can we expect them to connect to the material and really learn?
Similarly, if our students do not see themselves represented in their faculty and staff, how can we expect them to want to become educators themselves? It is important to make our voice heard and to champion diversity within our classrooms.
Join me in calling on our legislators to make teacher recruitment, diversity and retention a priority in the next legislative session. Fighting for a better education is an energizing experience that inspires educators like me to keep teaching and advocating for change for our students. With this in mind, I am optimistic about the future.
Mark Morrison is a member of Connecticut Educators for Excellence.