Recent talk discusses importance of teacher diversity in America

Dr. Travis J. Bristol, an Assistant Professor at Boston University hosted a talk on campus last Wednesday afternoon in Mary Lyon. His talk, titled “The Urgency of Teacher Racial/Ethnic Diversity in an Increasingly Diverse Society”, gave the audience an idea of how critical teacher diversity is in American schools.

Bristol started off the talk by commenting on the recent shootings involving black Americans and police officers. He wondered whether those police officers responsible would have acted differently had they had teachers of color growing up. He asserted that the influence of a person of color in those officer’s lives could have affected how they acted towards the people they shot.

In one statistic that Bristol shared, the audience learned that there are currently more students of color in schools than there are teachers of color. He also said that there are vastly less teachers of color than white teachers. He posed a question to the audience for discussion concerning whether or not they felt that we should have teachers teaching exclusively students of their like race. The overwhelming consensus of the audience was that it is critical for students to have interaction with people of different races and ethnicities in order to become global citizens. This question highlighted the need for diverse teachers for all students.

Bristol situates his work at “the intersection of research, practice, and policy”. He is a qualitative researcher, and has done studies on the topic of teacher diversity. In his talk shared some interesting statistics with the audience. In one study performed between 2012-2013 in Boston, Bristol interviewed 27 black male teachers and collected data from many of the schools in the area of all different types. His findings revealed that schools that had fewer black teachers were more likely to have a white principal, while schools that had more black teachers were more likely to be run by a black principal.

When Bristol asked the audience why they thought this correlation occurs, people had many different answers. Some people thought that black teachers felt more comfortable in a school where the principal is of like race. Others thought that black teachers felt that they had more opportunities for growth in a school with a black principal. Bristol often posed questions to the audience and had them discuss among themselves before talking about it as a group, which allowed the audience to truly reflect on and ponder the subject as opposed to sitting and listening.

By speaking with black teachers, Bristol found that the majority of them felt that their colleagues saw them as intellectually inferior. They also found themselves being forced into a disciplinary role as “behavior managers”. This unwanted role made it harder for them to improve as teachers, as they were always busy policing the students.

The audience members left the Holman Room with a new view of the American education system, and many eye opening statistics fresh in their minds. This talk fits in with the theme of diversity, something Wheaton has been seeking to add into its programming and speaker schedule recently due to the prevalence of racial issues in the media.