Teachers of Color in Suburban Schools











Teachers of Color in Suburban Schools  

Deidrea Leary, April 2017

The education field has voiced the urgent need for teachers of color in public schools to support the increase in the number of minority students. In addition, the education field has long acknowledged the important role that teachers of color have in diversifying school faculty, serving as role models to minority students, meeting the academic and social needs of minority and non-minority students, and introducing alternative pedagogies to their students because of their unique and diverse cultural and racial/ethnic backgrounds. However many teachers of color have not been properly prepared to teach in a field that is typically dominated by European American teachers, and where they can expect to be one of only a few minority teachers in their future schools. This web page provides information about the issues that teachers of color face as well as professional and socialization resources and support for teachers of color who choose to teach in mainly European American suburban schools. 





















Issues Teachers of Color Face in Suburban Schools

  • Teachers of color can feel marginalized and isolated in suburban school settings if their race and ethnicity do not align with the “institutional ideology” of the school.                

  • Teachers of color feel that they have to prove their value, expertise, and competence as teachers in their schools because they believe that European American teachers have “low  expectations” of their professional abilities.

  • Teachers of color feel that they are recognized only as “token representatives” of their cultural group. 

  • Teachers of color do not feel adequately supported professionally in their schools which intensifies their sense of invisibility.

  • Teachers of color have cited how they are often connected to racial incidents or troubling expectations and perceptions about people of their racial/ethnic group.

  • Teachers of color often experience explicit or implicit expectations to conform to particular norms e.g. pedagogy, speech, or dress that are representative of the European American teachers in their schools in order to experience acceptance and success.

  • Teachers of color feel the need to avoid or divert stereotypic perceptions about their racial/ethnic group and feel pressured to provide positive images of people in their racial/ethnic group.


















Quotes From Educators of Color

  • “[In] September when I came back pregnant, I kept thinking I had to be some type of role model for these kids and here I am, I’m a single mom, Black, pregnant, and I’m just like, I’m not helping, you know, the stereotypes, and you know I felt like there was a lot of weight now on my shoulders…I had to convince myself that I had a job, I’m responsible…I felt like I had to defend myself”. 

  • “I am supported as long as I make faculty and staff feel good about the many “isms” prevalent on our campus. But when I ask tough questions, I’m viewed as the angry Black person”.                                                                                                               

  • "Oh I lose all of that…I don’t use my identity in terms of how I teach the class. I use my experiences. So, for example, I [write] a Sanskrit symbol (on his lesson plan), which is OM, which means peace. And you know I think it’s the kind of thing I want to be encouraging people to embrace, considering what’s happening around the world…But in terms of my culture and values, I don’t want to impose those values".

  • "I feel like certain things are masked…I try not to do stereotypical Black things here …if we’re all going to eat like the math department, I won’t order fried chicken…just because I don’t want to feel like, oh that’s typical (of an African American to order this)…I try to do non-Black stereotypical things…or to look like I’m a little more worldly in the sense of like I’m not the stereotypical [African American woman]”.

  • “I think I mostly struggled with being a representation of the inner-city schools that most other students were dreading to teach at. I wanted to speak out for my community, but also didn’t want to be the token minority in my classrooms. I struggled a lot with feelings of resentment. (pre-service teacher)





























What Schools Can Do to Support Teachers of Color  

  • Create an environment that truly reflects your commitment to diversity- Before bringing in teachers of color a school needs to honestly examine its culture to identify its strengths and weaknesses as they think about their level of commitment to school diversity. It’s the old axiom: actions speak louder than words. What you do carries more weight than what you say.

  • Provide ongoing support for teachers of color- Schools can establish mentoring opportunities and networks of parents, teachers, and administrators that work on diversity issues together so that no one ends up feeling isolated. Schools should understand that the culture of the school may feel foreign to incoming teachers of color and consider what they may need to feel comfortable. 

  • Provide ongoing diversity training for everyone- A school should set aside time and money for all teachers to learn more about a multicultural community and about multicultural curriculum. It’s important that everyone understands that this is a process and it involves the entire community.

  • Create an opportunity for growth and leadership- Offer opportunities for teachers of color to act as leaders in your school but don’t ever overwhelm them or let them carry the weight for all diversity initiatives. Avoid the trappings of stereotypes that would only allow a teacher of color to advance within the realm of diversity leadership. Take conscious steps to make sure you’re not steering them in this direction based on their race or preventing them for advancing in other areas of school life that are of particular interest to them.

  • Establish a meaningful relationship with your teachers of color- Get to know your teachers of color. If you only talk with them at formal meetings, you can’t really know them, learn from them, or feel as if you’re in the same community together. Establish periodic affinity meetings with the various racial groups within the school. This not only gives the people of color in your school a chance to spend time with each other, it gives the head a chance to get to know teachers of color better, to listen to their concerns, and to share some of the school’s thoughts about its diversity efforts.  

  • Evaluate the curriculum- School administrators and curriculum departments should be willing to assess the curriculum to see to what degree it is weighted toward white culture and excludes people of color.

For more ideas about what schools can do to support teachers of color view: The AISNE Guide To Hiring and Retaining Teachers of Color: The Why and How of It


 Helpful Advice for Teachers of Color

  • Meet other teachers of color and staff as soon as possible. Find a support network of teachers of color and establish strong friendships even if they are not in your school. Don’t struggle in silence.

  • Incorporate discussions of your own ethnicity into classroom lessons in an effort to deepen students’ cultural understanding and to broaden White student’s worldviews to other cultures than those that often mirror their own. 

  • Some schools have a natural culture of “being in it together,” where lesson plans, resources, and sympathy are spread around liberally. Be confident and don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ll look incapable if you have to ask a question or ask for advice because you feel that you have to prove your competence.

  • Start the school year discussing the concept of racial identity and harnessing what students have in common and what else defines them other than their race.                                                                                                                                                                                            
  • Teach for at least two years. A lot of teachers say that it takes two or three years to begin to feel comfortable in the classroom and five years to really develop your style. Don’t quit early. Know it will be hard, but that you can succeed. Our young people, schools, and communities need new teachers of color. Remember the reasons you decided to become a teacher and don’t give up too soon. 




AISNE Guide to Hiring and Retaining Teachers of Color. Retrieved from http://www.aisne.org/services_resources/AISNE%20Guide%20to%20Hiring%20and%20Retaining%20Teachers%20of%20Color%20(2:02)%20By%20Michael%20Brosnan.pdf

Student Diversity Is Up But Teachers Are Mostly White. Retrieved from https://aacte.org/news-room/aacte-in-the-news/347-student-diversity-is-up-but-teachers-are-mostly-white

Teachers of Color Creating and Recreating Identities in Suburban Schools by Vera J. Lee. Retrieved from http://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol18/iss8/2/?utm_source=nsuworks.nova.edu%2Ftqr%2Fvol18%2Fiss8%2F2&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages

Where Are All the Teachers of Color? | Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/16/05/where-are-all-teachers-color