Teacher Diversity and the State of Our Democracy

Carol D. Lee

The Handbook of Teachers of Color and Indigenous Teachers

October 2021

The Handbook of Teachers of Color and Indigenous Teachers, edited by Conra D. Gist and Travis J. Bristol, addresses one of the major challenges facing the field of education in the United States: the lack of diversity among public school teachers. But our teaching force didn’t always lack diversity. During the era of Jim Crow, segregated schools were staffed primarily by Teachers of Color. Ironically, following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which mandated the desegregation of public school systems, thousands of Black teachers and administrators lost their jobs, displaced by white teachers and administrators (Hudson & Holmes,1994; Madkins, 2011). Nearly 70years later, U.S. public schools remain largely segregated, but the effects of that displacement linger on. Today, the teaching force is mostly white and female, even in large urban districts that enroll few white students (Hussar et al., 2020). 

If we hope to build a teacher workforce that reflects the growing diversity of our student populations, it is important that we understand both this historical legacy and the ongoing challenges we face in recruiting and sustaining teachers who are Black, Latinx, Native American, or Asian American/Pacific Islander. But it is just as important that we ask ourselves why this work matters. Why is it so important that we address this disjuncture between the ethnicities of our teachers and those of our students?