In the United States, we need Latino teachers in the same way we need women in the engineering field—not because it is the politically correct thing to do, but because women have what education scholar Geneva Gay would call “experiential filters” and therefore see the world differently. These differences may hold the answers to some of our contemporary problems in education.
We need Latino teachers, because of these experiential filters. This does not mean we exclude or dismiss the current teaching force (largely white and female), but instead build upon its strengths in order to increase diversity. It is, after all, the current teaching force that has raised the Latino high school graduation rate and afforded us many of our academic opportunities.
Latinos are underrepresented in the majority of professional fields, but this disparity becomes greater in education; only 6.9 percent of the teaching workforce is Latino whereas 24 percent of the student population is Latino.
As Latino teachers, we have some advantages in our classrooms but these same characteristics can occasionally be used against us. We personally have created special ways to form relationships with students and these encourage them to do better in school. However, these abilities cannot be explained by reducing them to our race/ethnicity. To do so would undermine our talents in the same way that assuming our most successful students would be middle class white females as a reflection of our teaching force. Focusing on success in the classroom because of race limits the ability of teachers from other backgrounds to succeed and removes responsibility from those teachers.
Instead of focusing our attention on unchangeable facets of individual identities, we propose that relationships can have deep and life changing power regardless of race specifically when the goals are both focused and honest.
A great point of contention is that few Latinos will join the teacher force when the overall salary is low relative to the amount of hurdles that have to be overcome in order to attend college and succeed. It is reasonable to think that after going to college and preparing professionally, Latinos may have a difficult time limiting their income potential by joining a teaching force that seems to stubbornly hold on to hierarchical forms of compensation. For people who do not come from humble backgrounds, these low-paying positions are not turn-offs. Despite its faults, Teach For America is currently one of the strongest recruitment machines for students of color, especially when compared to traditional pathways to education. While we by no means posit TFA as the solution to the problems we face in education, there are some valuable lessons to learn from their recruitment strategies.
We do not have to wait until more minority professionals become teachers in order to celebrate and support our minority students.
In a recent lecture, education scholar Pedro Noguera proclaimed that “old white people should be afraid” because it is this generation of children that will provide the tax revenue to support our elders in the future. To continue to provide them a subpar education would exacerbate the problem.
Our students are the talent pool we should be mining for our future teachers. Who wants to be part of a system where students are expected to learn according to European American cultural norms? If we respectfully and responsibly educate the next generation of young people, many of whom are Latino, then we can expect that many more of them will want to join the profession.