Dozens of Pennsylvania school districts have no teachers of color

Pennsylvania is already seeing a shortage of teachers, but the number of teachers of color is even lower. Dozens of districts in the state have no teachers of color.

Universities in the area, including Indiana University of Pennsylvania, are recognizing the problem and creating programs to recruit more teachers of color.

“As an educator, and one who prepares future teachers, we know that it’s just critical to increase the diversity within our teaching workforce in Pennsylvania,” said IUP Interim Provost Lara Luetkehans.

The group Research for Action tracks education diversity in Pennsylvania. It found 94% of all kindergarten to 12th grade teachers are white, while 40% of all Pennsylvania students are of color. There are 184 school systems in the state that don’t have a single teacher of color.

“Just as an example, we have about 100 students of color who are interested in pursuing teacher education. Over the last five years we’ve had about 50 graduates. So, what’s happening just in our little time with those folks that might be interested in education, that we’re losing students,” said Luetkehans.

She believes there are several factors at play. One is not getting children interested in teaching early enough. Another may be misconceptions about teacher salaries and that teacher is primarily a female profession. Finally, she believes children may not be getting enough positive experiences with teachers early in life.

“I think particularly with young Black men, what we came to understand is that they couldn’t see teaching for themselves,” Luetkehans said. “Many of them did not have positive experiences in school, and maybe didn’t see people like themselves in school.”

Multiple studies show there are academic, social and emotional benefits to students having a diverse teaching force.

Penn State University recently released a report digging deeper into the Research for Action data. Researchers found that for the average Black student in Pennsylvania, only 16% of their teachers were Black and about 2% Hispanic. Meantime, for the average white student, 98% of their teachers were white and they had few to no teachers of color.

English Education Director Emily Wender is working to change those numbers.

“Right now we have a planning grant to help us develop future programming that is very intentional and designed to support our current teacher candidates of color, and to attract and retain more teacher candidates of color,” Wender said.

She added that she’s finding the barriers students of color face are not one-size-fits-all. Virtually everyone’s experience is different.

“We’re finding that our candidates of color need space and time to be with other teacher candidates of color,” Wender said. “We’re holding workshops to listen to their experiences and also to do some envisioning, so that they are really being and feeling powerful in their own journeys to becoming educators. Pennsylvania needs them. We know this.”

Another part of IUP’s plan to recruit teachers of color involves Pittsburgh Public Schools and Philadelphia Public Schools. They’re helping with curricula for students as young as 4th grade, the time when kids start thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. That curriculum also helps students in Pittsburgh stay eligible for the Pittsburgh Promise Scholarship.

IUP also got a grant in 2019 to focus on its own curriculum.

“Making sure our curriculum was representative and created access, and also included preparation for our own teachers to make sure that even if we were primarily graduating white teachers that they were prepared to work in every environment, and they understood the importance of connecting with their students, helping all students learn and building the cultural competencies that requires to be successful in a multicultural environment,” Luetkehans said.

“Becoming a teacher is hard work. It takes a lot of time,” Wender added. “There are a lot of hoops to go through. We know there are barriers and we’re working on trying to remove those.”