Students affected by lack of teacher diversity

According to the BHS website, the high school prides itself on diversity. The high school’s student body represents 69 nations and speaks 44 languages. Yet, statistically, the diversity of teachers falls short.

While 40 percent of the students are Asian, African-American, Latino and multi-racial, only about 11 percent of teachers are, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Of the 264 teachers, 15 are African-American, six are Latino and nine are Asian. Headmaster Deborah Holman said the district has made it a goal to close the gap between the diversity of students and teachers.

[su_column size=”1/2″][iframe src=”” frameborder=”0″ allowtransparency=”true” allowfullscreen=”allowfullscreen” webkitallowfullscreen=”webkitallowfullscreen” mozallowfullscreen=”mozallowfullscreen” oallowfullscreen=”oallowfullscreen” msallowfullscreen=”msallowfullscreen” width=”300″ height=”450″][/iframe][/su_column]According to history teacher Kathryn Leslie, the high school has too few teachers of Asian-American or Latino descent.

“If I can’t name more than one Latino teacher who teaches something other than world language, I think that’s problematic,” Leslie said. “If I can’t name more than one Asian-American teacher who, again, teaches something other than world language, that’s problematic because I don’t think that’s representative of where Brookline’s at.”

Junior Sophia Ramsey said that besides Dr. Vick, who teaches the African-American and Latino Scholars Program, she has never had a teacher of color. Junior Kenny Szeto has only had two besides his Chinese teachers.

“It makes it very difficult for students of color who were like, ‘Here I am, and you don’t understand me at all.’ I have had teachers like that, who I see pick on a black boy and nobody else because they immediately assume that he is trying to be sort of rebellious, or something,” Ramsey said. “It’s probably not malicious, but you don’t see that as much from black teachers. You see more equality because maybe a black teacher has had things like that happen to them.”

According to Ramsey, if there was a more diverse group of teachers, teachers would be more conscious of racial issues because they would have closer relations with people of different races.Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 4.45.10 PM

“Ignorance-wise, there’s a lot of teachers that don’t understand certain things,” Ramsey said. “So I am immediately more comfortable with someone like Mr. Douglass, or any black teacher I meet, because I know that they understand a little bit.”

History teacher Malcolm Cawthorne, who attended Brookline High School as a student, said that teacher diversity has many values.

“I think more diversity is good for every kid,” Cawthorne said. “It’s good for kids to see lots of different people holding lots of different positions. It helps kids develop an idea that everybody’s equal when they see that.”

Leslie said she also understands the importance of having diverse staff, especially as role models. As a gay student, she said it would have been incredibly helpful to have seen an openly gay teacher who was comfortable with themself. She said she doesn’t want to draw an exact parallel, but that she sees how it could be similar for students of color.

“I think that students of color at BHS deserve to see smart, talented educators who are of their background,” Leslie said. “If you see someone who looks like you, who is doing something incredible or is just highly accomplished and very smart, you believe that you can be that person too.”

Health and fitness teacher Keith Thomas, on the other hand, said he does not see a problem with the current teacher diversity.

“I think we do a great job with meeting kids’ needs and having them see all types of different role models,” Thomas said.

According to English teacher Jenee Ramos, one of the reasons for the difference in diversity between students and teachers might be that the applicant pool is not rich in terms of staff of color.

“I think that there may be something to be said for the fact that historically this district doesn’t hire staff of color so much,” Ramos said. “Teachers of color or staff of color might be interested in working in another place that has greater numbers, so that might factor in for people.”
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Interesting Facts

  • Only 20% of Massachusetts Test for Education of Liscensure (MTEL) takers are of color
  • State target: increase the diversity of teachers of color from 7.1% to (FY 2013) to 10.2% (FY 2018)[/su_column] Science Curriculum Coordinator Ed Wiser, who is in charge of recommending new science teachers, said that he wished there were more applicants of color. He said that in his years as curriculum coordinator, he has only hired two teachers of color. He said that Brookline’s recruitment efforts have not been as successful as hoped.

Cawthorne said that historically, the high school has not recruited minority teachers as aggressively as it could have.

“I think sometimes Brookline as a district assumes people will just come and want to be here, and sometimes you just have to go out and find people. I don’t think Brookline is very aggressive in doing that,” Cawthorne said. “I think Brookline High has had lots of opportunities to expand and broaden and they haven’t taken them.”

According to Cawthorne, the school could have asked its contacts at local colleges if they knew of any qualified minority teacher. He said that neither his late father, who was a dean at Boston College nor a former social studies teacher who had supervised student teachers at Laslie College were ever contacted by the school.

Dean Alexia Thomas, one of the leaders of “Courageous Conversations,” a faculty group focused on racial issues at the high school, said that the group is planning to look closer at the racial diversity of teachers and start discussing ways to seek more diverse teachers to work at the school.

In addition, Holman said that the district is increasing efforts to hire teachers of color. She said that curriculum and program coordinators are conscious about looking for great teachers of color. The Human Resource department recently presented a report on Brookline’s hiring profile to the School Committee.

“Now, in the Boston Public Schools, there are many more African-American candidates and teachers,” Holman said. “So I think Brookline does have to think through that, in terms of, ‘Why does Boston attract and we don’t? What can we do to attract a more diverse group of faculty to work here?’”

Junior Jungwoo Soon, who was surprised about the lack of teacher diversity when entering the school this year, said the school cannot be changed immediately.

“It’s a step by step process,” he said. “So I think the first level of it is raising the awareness of the community; that’s the first step for anything.”

Maya Margolis and Robby Lamont can be contacted at [email protected]