Ask Arne: The Importance of Teacher Diversity

The importance of teacher diversity hits home for me as a former teacher in an urban school district. That is why I am currently a doctoral candidate studying education at Johns Hopkins University. It’s also one of the reasons I applied for an internship at the U.S. Department of Education.

I taught in a public college prep magnet high school in the District of Columbia for six years. I saw how few role models and mentors of color my students were able to find at school – and I was concerned about the impact that might have on their learning. I also wondered how our young people would gain the confidence and commitment they’d need to become leaders in their communities, when many of their school leaders did not reflect these students’ own experiences and backgrounds.

The administrators at my school were committed to having a diverse faculty, but there were many challenges. There was a small applicant pool of experienced, qualified teachers of color. Additionally, I observed that it was difficult to attract and retain educators of color in my high-needs district.

As I’ve done my doctoral research I’ve come to realize that my experience wasn’t unique. Nationwide, there’s a lack of minority teachers in the workforce, and the problem is particularly acute in urban school districts. I’ve come to realize that significant steps need to be taken to address this issue. Right now, it’s an unfortunate cycle: many promising students of color may not even consider teaching as a viable career choice because they haven’t seen many teachers that look like them.

As my research continues, I plan to focus on finding new ways to address this crisis. Here at the Department of Education, it is an issue that continues to garner the attention of senior leaders.

During a recent installment of “Ask Arne,” Secretary Duncan; David Johns, Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans; and Joiselle Cunningham, 2013 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, discussed the importance of teacher diversity.

Johns recalled his experiences teaching in an urban school, and described the role he was able to play in creating a positive school culture that handled discipline in an unbiased and constructive way, especially for young African-American boys. He noted that it’s not just important for African-American and Hispanic students to have teachers that share their experiences and culture—it is important for all students to learn from a diverse, committed, and passionate group of teachers.

One of America’s greatest strengths is its diversity. We need to do a better job of making sure our teacher workforce embodies those strengths and values.

Kristen Moore is an intern in the Office of the Secretary.


  1. Teacher diversity will continue to be an issue in education until the teaching profession receives the same level of respect as other professions thought of as “more glamorous”. I decided to become a teacher in 4th grade but it wasn’t until high school that I recognized the lack of teachers who “looked like me”. In the school district I attended, in a suburb of St. Louis, I only experienced 1 African American teacher between the 4th and 12th grades.
    I think universities should form partnerships with school districts in their community to allow pre-service teachers the experiences that would attract them to teaching in an urban school district. Which is quite rewarding! I also believe that the amount of funding for the TEACH Grant should increase. $4000 per academic year is great but it doesn’t stretch very far.
    Let’s make the field of teaching just as valuable for the teachers as it is for the students.

  2. This seminal issue has been talked about for 50 years – since the early 1960s. It is disappointing that our Department of Education is still talking without any recommended action steps. It would have been great to hear at least some initial indicators from the referenced research. Instead, 50 years later, it is still talk, talk, talk . . . . Time for action is long past due. How about a follow-up article that says something helpful?

  3. Thank you for this topic as an Education Value:
    It is so important to find healthy examples of teachers working together in culturally diverse school districts, and it is also important to find a diverse group of educators teaching at school sites. Over my 30 plus years teaching in public schools I have found so much richness from fellow Educators who share their knowledge and understanding of the world we live in while in team discussions regarding best practices and standards of teaching curriculum. These conversations often gave understanding regarding the cultural backgrounds of the students we serve. When I began to Substitute after all my long time single school site and single school district experiences, I learned so much more having the chance to work at different school sites and in different school districts. What I found regarding diversity practices, social learning environments, and expertise of teaching skills, was a mixture of wonderful understanding of what it takes to become a highly qualified educator working in diverse settings. Thank you for this topic and inviting Educators into the discussions regarding culture and diversity modeling and learning practices.

  4. This is so true, and hits close to home here as well, in a more suburban area. I have been concerned for years about the lack of diverse educational role models for impressionable middle school aged students in our schools. Hopefully changes in the future for those who pursue a career in education will bring in more diversity.

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