About a year ago, someone from the Kentucky Education Association reached out to our office and asked if we would like to display the drawings our public school students did as part of their Difference Makers Art Contest. As those drawings were recently being taken down, it got me thinking about how they connect to the department’s efforts on teacher diversity and teacher recruitment.
Each of those students was asked to draw a picture of someone who has made a difference in their lives. The people they drew weren’t just one kind of teacher. The teachers were White, Black, male and female. There were reading teachers, math teachers, coaches, a bus driver, a custodian, art teachers, lunchroom monitors and for one student, a ninja.
This diversity in the drawings shows why the department’s efforts to diversify the teacher workforce is so important. A diverse teacher workforce is better for all our students.
A study published in 2017 in the ISA Institute of Labor Economics showed that Black males who had a Black teacher in 3rd, 4th or 5th grade had a significantly lower chance of dropping out of high school, particularly among those who were from the lowest-income families. And having a Black teacher in those same grades increased the likelihood for both Black and White students to want to attend a higher education institution.
Diversity in the teacher workforce helps our students – all of our students – see what is possible. A diverse teacher workforce can show a child living in poverty in Eastern Kentucky that going to college and becoming a professional is possible for everyone. A diverse teacher workforce can show Black children in Louisville, Latinx children in Lexington and students in Western Kentucky who were resettled from some of the most war-torn places on Earth that they have the ability to succeed and a place in the Commonwealth.
We want to see a teaching profession that prides itself on promoting a diverse workforce, that supports the progression and retention of all teachers, and that builds an inclusive environment for teachers and students where they can be themselves. Diversity is more vital now than ever because we are educating our students to excel in a global society where they will collaborate with people from different social and ethnic backgrounds, gender, sexual orientations, religious experiences and socio-economic status.
Another thing I noticed about the teachers our students chose to draw was how they saw their favorite teachers as connected and engaging. One student drew their reading teacher saying, “You can read!” “Work is for your good” and even “Read or else.” One art teacher was surrounded by sayings such as “Amazing job!” “I love art!” and “You are awesome.” One older student did a portrait of her teacher with the words, “artist,” “inspiring,” “encouraging” and “noble” written across the background.
One of the biggest things we learned from the series of listening sessions we held as part of the Commissioner’s Virtual Listening Tour earlier this year is that students crave that connection with their teachers. They crave a teacher who sees them, all of them, and recognizes the messy, complex layers that make up all our lives.
One way to ensure Kentucky’s public school students have that high-quality, diverse and engaging teacher in their classrooms is to increase the number of people entering the teacher workforce.
I am a big supporter of Educators Rising, a nationwide grow-your-own teacher career and technical student organization that inspires high school students to pursue education as a career. We believe that by supporting local districts, we can build a diverse and sustainable pipeline of teachers who reflect the community in which they teach and recognize the need for funding to curb the teacher shortage by investing in the next generation of educators. In Kentucky we are seeking to continue to develop chapters in high school and on the collegiate level to ensure we are recruiting our best and brightest into the teaching field.
If you have ever thought about becoming a teacher or are considering becoming one now, we need you. Teaching is an important and rewarding profession. What other field allows you to help generations of young people learn the skills they’ll need in the future and discover the passions that will drive them for the rest of their lives?
Teaching is what has defined my life – especially since I am a third-generation educator – and has helped give it meaning. If you are looking for a chance to make a difference in the life of another person, we can use you.