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Teachers as Role Models

When students have teachers of their same race, they say they feel more cared for and more interested in their schoolwork ("If your teacher looks like you, you may do better in school," NPR, Sep. 29).  The findings were based on a survey of more than 80,000 public school students in grades four through eight in six different states. 

Actually, the findings are not new.  Students have always needed role models.  Yet I wonder if hiring more teachers of color in schools with a high percentage of students of color will necessarily produce improved outcomes across the board.  Students in the upper grades at least are more likely to respond positively to teachers of any color as long as the teachers know their subject matter and present it in an interesting way.  In the lower grades, the situation is probably different because students lack the necessary maturity.

Then there's the matter of viewing races as monoliths.  I think we assume that all members of a particular race share similar values and attitudes.  When busing began in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where I taught for 28 years, those new to my school were mostly black.  They differed among themselves as much as students from other races.  The black teachers were no more effective in teaching many of these students than the teachers of other color.  In fact, the black teachers often had more trouble teaching black students than white teachers did. I think it's time to look beyond race to other factors in determining the probability of success in the classroom.

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