Do Students of Color Need to Have Teachers of Color?

From The Mind of Dr. Mack T. Hines

Throughout my career, I’ve been continuously asked, “Do students of color need teachers of color to succeed in schools?” My answer has always been the same-Yes.

Black students need Black teachers. Hispanic students need Hispanic teachers. Asian students need Asian teachers. The rationale for this need is that teachers of color can often relate to students of color in unique ways.

An extended way of understanding this uniqueness is as follows:

1.Like students of color, teachers of color have often experienced various forms of racialized inequality during their schooling experiences.

2. Unlike White teachers, teachers of color are more likely to see race as a significant part of the identities of students of color. In addition, they are more likely to use race as starting point for becoming culturally responsive to these students

3. Teachers of color possess a positive familiarity with the cultural backgrounds of students of color. As a result, they are more likely than White teachers to see the mannerisms and expressions of their students as assets instead of deficits.

The significance of these statements are not about the politics of identity. These statements convey the significance or viewing the need for school through a representational lens.

We live in a country that presents all racial groups as a cultural dish of universal equality, brotherhood, and unity. But truth be told, the official representation of America is unequivocally White-White people, White Culture, White Traditions. This leaves little room for cultural representation to reflect the needs and experiences of non-White people.

Of all the places to promote diversity in race representation, the school is one of the most important places. The reason is that other than the home, schools imbue students with the confidence to pursue achievement. It’s one thing for students of color to experience school success. But to be supported by teachers of color in the pursuit of excellence is to be raised to a higher level of self-worth and self-esteem.

As a former student of color, I can attest to the power of these experiences in shaping the ways in which students of color see themselves as people.

Can you?

5 replies
  1. J.Bell
    J.Bell says:

    Ohhhhh, this is a good one. I actually disagree with you on this one, to a *point. My Mother was a teacher for 40 years and in that time she taught and impacted hundreds of kids. She brought no color to the classroom, and didn’t see her kids as anything but kids. As a matter of fact she was harder on the Black kids. I think education is education no matter who presents it; 1 +1 is always going to be 2.

    I think there are several issues that come into play with this topic.

    1. The teacher themselves. How committed is the teacher yo educating all children? How have they handled the negative experiences with children from other ethnic backgrounds?

    2. The teachers background. What experience does the teacher have with other ethnicities outside of the classroom?

    3. The teachers understanding of the cultural needs/background of the student. (See #2)

    Depending on the answer, you will have different results in the classroom when it comes to children from different ethnic background. You can have a White teacher teach Black students successfully, but they have to understand the culture. Essentially, they have to have “soul” to get through to the kids.

  2. K. Law
    K. Law says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that black students need to be taught by black teachers. This is does not inherently imply that black students should only be taught by black teachers, but that in order for them to thrive and survive in a society that often de-values their lives and denigrates their culture, they must experience some places of respite within their educational journey. Places and spaces where they can develop a complete, wholesome, positive sense of their identity and their culture. A teacher who shares the same racial and cultural identity as their students has the unique potential to help them navigate the minefields of micro-agressions and overt racism without becoming embittered and/or rejecting the education being offered to them in a silent (or not so silent) protest to what, in their minds, amounts to cultural genocide, at best, or dehumanization at worst.

    That being said, even though I truly believe black teachers have the potential to educate black students in a uniquely positive, culturally responsive way, there are other factors that may hinder or diminish their ability to do so. One such hindrance is a subconscious tendency to favor those students whose socioeconomic status more closely resembles their own. Often this tendency produces the exact opposite effect on the academic and social development we would desire to see in black students. Behavior such as this has been shown to facilitate a downward academic spiral for black students, which defeats the purpose of a culturally responsive education.

    Black teachers who have themselves successfully overcome the obstacles of racism, stereotypes, profiling, social and socioeconomic stigma, and countless microaggresions can, not only teach black students how to survive in an academic setting, but also teach them life lessons on how to maintain balance and achieve academic excellence while honoring and embracing all facets of their cultural identity. What is key is that these teachers continue the fight against these obstacles and hindrances in their own lives on a continuing basis, so as not to forget how to overcome them. After that, they must fulfill the obligation to pass the knowledge on.

  3. J.Walker
    J.Walker says:

    I believe students should be taught by “teachers” regardless of color. As an educator I have observed black and white teachers who have not met the academic or behavior needs of students. Just because you are black does not mean a teacher will better serve black students. A teacher (whether black or white) must be able to recognize his or her biases and have a true commitment to educating children especially African Americans (greatest need academically and behaviorally). I do believe students should have a balanced perspective and this comes with having a wide range of teachers ( black and non-black/male and female). What is critical is the teacher establishing a rapport with students, letting them know he/she care, embracing differences, being fair, and holding students accountable for academics and behavior should be the focus not whether the teacher is black or white).

  4. Rae
    Rae says:

    Yes, often times teachers of color relate to students of color in unique ways. This article offers a great perspective regarding the student and teacher relationship. However,
    regardless of ethnicity, it is important that teachers are able to relate to students and effectively communicate with them.

  5. Kim Truslow
    Kim Truslow says:

    I can see the value in students of color having teachers of color; however, I also believe that having conversations about race and how racial identity influences how students learn can open the door for teachers of all color (or those with white privilege) to be able to effectively teach students of color. In other words, believing that all black children must have black teachers to be successful is simply not true, nor realistic. Instead, as a leader, it is critical for me to engage teachers in dialogue and for us all to examine our beliefs, perceptions, and actions about teaching students of color.


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