New York City is often labeled a melting pot for its rich diversity. It is home to millions of individuals from countless different backgrounds that vary in race, ethnicity, and culture. Yet, this diversity is not reflected in one of the city’s most significant institutions – the school system. New York City public schools not only have a gender discrepancy between teachers and students; there is also a stark racial discrepancy between these same groups. Data from the New York City Department of Education (DOE) indicates that of the city’s 1.1 million public school students, approximately 43 percent are male students of color. Nevertheless, only about 8.5 percent of New York City’s public school teachers are males of color. These statistics suggest that New York City’s vast diversity is not proportionately mirrored by its public school system.
Some may argue that as long as a teacher is adequately able to effectively communicate his or her curriculum to a classroom of students, identity should not matter. This logic, however, is misguided in that it assumes a teacher to be a facilitator for solely academic purposes. Teachers are important to student development for many other reasons. Teachers are crucial when it comes to sculpting students’ identities and behavior. Additionally, teachers are responsible for critiquing and monitoring this very behavior. Thus, it is of the utmost importance to have teachers who can accurately understand and relate to the student population they are dealing with.
One attempt to bring diversity to the classroom came from Mayor de Blasio’s administration in 2015. As a joint effort among many city institutions, including the DOE, CUNY, and Teach for America, NYC Men Teach aims to recruit 1,000 men of color into the teaching force by 2018. The overall goal is to diversify NYC classrooms in a way that is more reflective of the student populous. By doing so, students are more likely to see someone who is just like them standing at the front of a classroom. Though this may seem trivial, having someone with similar life experiences and backgrounds as a teacher can profoundly affect a student’s learning environment. NYC Men Teach cites research that indicates diverse teachers can contribute to higher grades and self-worth, as well as build tolerance and appreciation of other cultures among students.
Additionally, a report on culturally responsive classroom management techniques by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development found that students who do not have teachers from similar backgrounds are more likely to experience implicit biases. These biases are often misunderstandings that lead to students being mislabeled as having a disability or being behaviorally disruptive. Sometimes these misunderstandings may even escalate to involve disciplinary actions as excessive as law enforcement arrests. Therefore, NYC Men Teach aims not only to improve the school system within communities of color, but their overall quality of life as well.
Still, NYC Men Teach is only a small step towards creating a more diverse teaching workforce that better represents the student population. Nationally, more than 80 percent of all of public school teachers are white, while the same is certainly not true of the public school student body. To ensure that all students have a positive learning environment, regardless of the race of their teacher, cultural competence is crucial. According to the National Education Association, cultural competence is “having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families.” With cultural competence in the classroom, students will feel more comfortable and form stronger relationships with their educators. This option is particularly necessary for cities and states without a diversity recruitment technique like NYC Men Teach.
Programs like NYC Men Teach, as well initiatives like cultural competency, are important innovations to help an increasingly diverse study body be successful both inside and outside of the classroom. By emphasizing culturally competent pedagogy, all teachers will be able to embrace all of their students and effectively serve as mentors, peer mediators, role models and even friends.