Diversity in Nashville continues to be disproportionately low even years after the school district set out guidelines to increase it. Almost one-third of all Metro Nashville students identify as African American, Hispanic or Asian, yet just 16 percent of the teachers that they see everyday look like them, according to a study released by a coalition of nine teacher preparation programs.
The group, called Trailblazer Coalition, is funded by Conexion Americas.
For Hawanatu Wurie, a teacher at Metro Nashville Public Schools, she cites a lack of mentorship as one reason it took so long to become a teacher. After getting a degree in English, the Detroit native bounced around working at a call center and as a teacher's assistant before landing her first teaching job.
"It was never that I didn’t want to be a teacher; I just didn’t have the support," said Wurie. "I think I can count on hand having a teacher of color, whether it be male or female."
Nationwide, the number of students majoring in education has reached its lowest point in 45 years. Locally, minorities are even more unlikely to pursue teaching.
The coalition of teacher prep programs set out to find out why. Over one year, they interviewed more than 400 high school students at Glencliff, Overton and Antioch High Schools, chosen because of their diverse student population. They also carried out 19 focus groups with teacher, administrators and current college students.
The results suggest that in order for Metro schools to recruit and retain a more diverse teaching base, local universities must also do a better job of providing a more inclusive pipeline of candidates.
“We recognized as teacher educators that we can’t call upon Metro Schools to hire more teachers of color if there’s not a robust pipeline of qualified candidates,” said Laura Delgado, program director of the Pionero Scholars at Lipscomb University’s College of Education and a member of the committee.
“The lack of teacher diversity is a complex problem that’s beyond any one entity’s ability to fix. We know from national research that the teacher pipeline is broken in multiple places: Students of color are less likely to major in education, less likely to graduate college, less likely to pass the Praxis, less likely to be hired than their white counterparts and more likely to leave the classroom. Solving these challenges will take involvement and support from across the community.”
Though there is no singular solution to the problem, the coalition suggests that teacher education programs in Middle Tennessee can help by hiring more recruiters of color, fostering mentorship programs and providing more financial support for underrepresented students.
The universities say they are ready to do their part.
Among other initiatives, Lipscomb is committing to funding scholarships for minority students who want to teach and Vanderbilt is funding further research.