Friday, August 04, 2006

Hispanic teachers still a rare find

The most important aspect for Latina/o children is their having not simply a "role model," a rather vacuous term, but rather someone with whom they can relate and who shares a similar "location" with them in terms of shared backgrounds, experiences, language, dialect, values, predispositions. While any teacher can be a good or even great treacher to these children, these psychological and emotional qualities that come with the presence of Latina/o teacher has incalculable value.

I personally get this all the time from my own students who have never in their lives had a Latina teacher, much less a Latina professor. I, too, remember having this same experience of having a Latino or Latina professor and realized its profound impact on me. The stuff of culture is often very subtle but ever so powerful. I hope for our nation that this doesn't constitute a prospect that is threatening--particularly when Latino representation is so devastatingly low--but rather an opportunity that we need to find ways to exploit.


Hispanic teachers still a rare find
Districts trying to match student diversity but lack the candidates
09:41 AM CDT on Thursday, August 3, 2006

By KAREN AYRES / The Dallas Morning News
Sometimes a lesson in fractions can be a cultural affair.

Fourth-grade teacher Mariana Castelblanco often skips metaphors about slicing pizza. Instead her students visualize the division of an oblea , a popular Mexican snack.

"They really understand what I'm talking about," said the Garland teacher, an emigrant from Colombia who primarily teaches Hispanic students. "I know how to talk to them – what words to use."

That kind of lesson is exactly what school leaders want for Hispanic students, but few youngsters will experience it when school opens next month.

REX C. CURRY / Special Contributor
Bilingual teachers Paloma Pola (left) and Rosario Celaya — both from Mexico City — work on classroom materials at the Dallas school district’s School Support Service Center.

Hispanics are fast becoming the dominant ethnic group in many Dallas-area schools, but Hispanic teachers are still a rare find, school officials say.

In the Dallas area, more than one-third of the students in the 2004-05 school year were Hispanic, according to a survey of area districts.

But less than one in 10 teachers was Hispanic.

Experts and administrators say improving that ratio goes beyond aggressive recruiting. There are not enough Hispanic teacher candidates to go around, and there won't be until more Hispanic students make it through college.

Anglo candidates

"We want our teaching population to mirror our student population," said Neil Dugger, an assistant superintendent in the Irving school district, where more than half of the students are Hispanic.

"We take that goal very seriously, but we also know the hurdles that are there in meeting that goal. The overall problem is that the pool of talent out there is heavily Anglo."

Education experts say Hispanics are more likely than their white peers to drop out of high school or stop short of a college degree.

As a result, only 9 percent of Hispanic adults over the age of 25 have a college degree, compared with 30 percent of white people of the same ages, state statistics show.

The problem is also generational: Young Texans are a more diverse group than adults; there is a smaller percentage of Hispanics in the pool of potential teachers.

With Hispanic growth projected to continue, state demographer Steve Murdock said major changes are needed.

"There is no doubt as you go forward in time you will see some diversity in the teaching population," Mr. Murdock said. "But at the same time, we're going to need much more success getting minority kids through high school and into college to get to the level it should be."

Does it really matter if a Hispanic student has a Hispanic teacher? Many think so.

A study by the Pew Hispanic Center shows that roughly 70 percent of people think Hispanic youngsters don't perform as well as white students at least in part because many white teachers don't relate well to Hispanic children.

"I think they feel more comfortable with their own race learning," said Dallas resident Robert Hernandez, who prefers that his two sons have Hispanic teachers.

Experts say there is no definitive research on whether such a match boosts test scores, but many of them agree that there are obvious perks to having a Hispanic face in the classroom.

Sometimes it's just a matter of talking about Mexican history, food or holidays. Other times it's more complex. When one of Ms. Castelblanco's students misbehaves, she has her own way of shutting the problem down.

Also Online
Graduation rates (.pdf)

Hispanic growth in schools (.pdf)

En español

"I tell them right away, 'You have to change because that kind of behavior is why people don't want us here,' " she said.

Most of her students' parents work in restaurants or construction. She presses youngsters to one day become president.

Educators say Hispanic teachers often serve as role models, helping Hispanic youngsters see that they can succeed.

"If children see themselves personified in a principal or a teacher or a nurse, they know they can also be that person," said Hector Flores, a human resources director for Dallas ISD and former president of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "You need those positive images."

Hispanic teachers can often communicate better with Hispanic parents, educators say. Many can speak Spanish, but they also settle parents' nerves with their shared cultural background.

"You want to get the parents involved in their children's education, and it certainly helps," Dr. Dugger said. "There is a built-in comfort level."

Ms. Castelblanco's daughter, Veronica Plata, 22, plans to follow her mother's path when she graduates from college in December.

"I just want to show them that I'm Hispanic, I don't speak English perfectly, but here I am teaching math," Ms. Plata said. "You need to show you care about them and you know where they're coming from."

Early inspiration

Experts say more Hispanics need to be sold on a teaching career at a young age.

Some local districts, including McKinney and Irving, have started programs in high schools to encourage students, particularly Hispanics, to teach.

This afternoon, Irving is holding an emergency teacher job fair, a last-ditch effort to hire teachers only weeks before school starts. Officials are particularly searching for bilingual teachers, as well as math and special education instructors.

Some districts bring in Hispanic teachers from other states and countries to fill the gap. But experts warn that picking the right teachers matters more than simply picking people of certain ethnicities.

"You can't just put a Latino teacher in there," said Judy Radigan, a researcher at Rice University's Center for Education. "It has to be someone who understands the place from where these kids come."

Many districts are focusing on boosting Hispanic student performance, but any significant jump in the number of Hispanic teachers is likely to come slowly. Regardless, experts say, teachers of all races need to be taught how to relate to students of other cultures.

"Many schools have been working on it, but it hasn't flourished to a large extent," said Suresh Appavoo, a professor at the Dominican University of California. "Culture is the one thing we really don't test empirically."

Teaching educators to respect other cultures may be enough for students, said Candie Segura, 17, a Mexican-American from Plano.

"As long as they respect me and I respect them," she said, "their race shouldn't matter."


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