PORTLAND, Maine – Ninety-seven percent of teachers in Portland Public Schools are white, and forty percent of students are not.
And that’s a problem for Superintendent Xavier Botana, the Bangor Daily News reports.
“It was an issue that kids talked about frequently. That they really wanted to see more people in their classrooms in leadership roles, etc. that looked like them and shared their experience,” he said.
This summer, district officials are working to change the demographics by recruiting more nonwhite teachers as part of a new initiative with the University of Southern Maine.
Dozens of Portland students and community members are trekking to the university on Fridays to take a tuition-free education class with the hopes of working their way into a teaching position in the district. During four other days a week, they work with classroom teachers to learn the trade.
The class doesn’t result in a teaching certificate, however, and most will require years of college before they can teach in Portland schools. The class is designed to convince them to become teachers and return to the district, so students of color don’t have so many white educators.
The program has at least one student thinking about ditching her dream of becoming a doctor to take up teaching instead.
“It’s making me think of what I should actually do,” Portland High School graduate Amy Umutoni told the news site. “Be a teacher or a medical doctor? What impact will I do in the community?”
Others, like Eritrea born Berekit Bairu, already have experience teaching in another country and are using the program as a means of gaining the credentials to lead a classroom in America.
Bairu told the Daily News the summer program has gotten him in the door at Portland schools, but he faces a long road to full-time employment that requires him to obtain proof of his work in Eritrea and complete the necessary teacher certification tests.
“So it could take, I don’t know how much time, but it could take like six months, one year, two years, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
The effort to recruit nonwhite teachers is nothing new, with schools in Delaware, Wisconsin, England and many other places focusing on the same issue. It also coincides with hundreds of school districts across the U.S. sending white teachers to “diversity training” sessions that focus on white privilege, and how white educators can reach black students who underperform in public schools, EAGnews reports.
The focus on teacher race is also the motivation behind efforts in New York to put an end to a teacher literacy test some believe hold back minority teachers, the Independent Journal Review reports.
The federal government is even funding special training sessions in North Carolina and other areas to help mostly white teachers craft “culturally relevant” lessons for mostly nonwhite students, according to The News & Observer.
The Portland Press Herald reports:
Nationwide, non-white students became a majority of students in America’s public schools in 2014-15. Yet a 2014 report by the National Education Association found that the number of teachers of color had actually declined from 26 percent in 1994 to just 18 percent in 2014, prompting a call for more diversity in the teaching profession.
The study is one of several USM professor Catherine Fallona – author of the new course for nonwhite Portland teacher recruits – sees as evidence that the whitest state in the nation is in need of a lot more nonwhite teachers.
“This is such an important move to diversify our teaching force,” she told the Press Herald. “The students really need to see themselves in the teachers that they have. In some ways, the more our schools are reflective of all our community members, we will become a more integrated society.”