Taking an honest look at teacher diversity

Oct. 2, 2003, midnight | By Izaak Orlansky | 18 years, 7 months ago

In 1993, English resource teacher Vickie Adamson walked into the English department her first year and realized she was the only black teacher there.

Instructional aide Geoffrey Finch recalls that year too, when he was a freshman at Blair, and minority teachers were far and few between. "I could count the minority teachers [in the school] on both hands," he says.

The transformation at Blair from having few minority teachers to more than 50 this year is truly remarkable. But an honest look at Blair's teacher demographics reveals some important shortcomings.

A teacher's ethnicity is obviously not the most influential aspect in being an effective teacher. However, it is also clear that having a diverse staff can only be an asset to a school. After all, MCPS' Office of Human Resources includes seeking staff that "reflect the diverse needs of the student population" in its mission statement. The greater the diversity, the more options students have for finding a teacher that they can go to for help. In an informal Silver Chips poll of 100 Blazers taken on Sept 10, 23 percent feel more comfortable learning from a teacher who is the same race as them.

For the black student population, the largest ethnicity at Blair, an increase in the number of black teachers (18.8 percent of all teachers) has created a web of support. Of the 34 new teachers this year, five are black, including one administrator and one academy leader. Other progress is seen in ethnicity-focused classes such as African American Studies, which is currently taught by Cassandra Heath, a black teacher. "I have a feeling students look at her and believe more readily what she has to say," social studies resource teacher Cherie McGinn says.

While the black population has experienced a growth in its support, the other significant minority population at Blair has been largely ignored. Next year at the latest, the Latino population (26.1 percent) will overtake the white population (27.9 percent) as the second-largest ethnicity at Blair. Yet only five percent of teachers are Latino.

Less than five Latino faculty members teach outside the ESOL or the Foreign Language Department. Without Latino teachers in other core subjects, Latino students do not have an adequate support network. The result, according to Hispanic Club sponsor Elba Castro, is a large population of students depending on a few teachers for help. "The school community has to understand what is happening in Hispanic homes. Some are really struggling, and they don't have enough support," she says.

Building a sufficient support network, no matter the ethnicity, is not a simple task. Latino teachers, or any teachers of a particular ethnicity, do not appear out of nowhere. Minority teachers are highly sought commodities in the U.S. However, the integration of black teachers over the past decade at Blair may hopefully offer some foreshadowing for the Latino population. Two of Adamson's students are now teachers at Blair. Perhaps in another ten years, the same will be the case will with Castro's.

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Izaak Orlansky. Izaak Orlansky is a senior in the Communications Arts Program. His hobbies include cross-country running, swimming, and singing in the spring musical. Izaak is also a big fan of the Yankees, and likes playing with big fluffy dogs. More »

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