‘Not enough teachers who look like me’: African Americans want more classroom representation

By: - August 19, 2021 9:16 am

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During a Black Leadership Advisory Council (BLAC) education virtual town hall meeting Wednesday night, Black parents, students and teachers called for more equity in the school system, including more representation of Black educators.

“There’s no equity in regards to the teaching staff compared to the student population,” said Trishanda Williams, a teacher at Flint Community Schools. “In other words, there’s not enough teachers who look like me.”

State Superintendent Michael Rice said that the state’s percentage of students of color is nearly four times greater than the percentage of teachers of color in the state.

“It’s about a three-to-one ratio. That’s unacceptable,” Rice said. 

Rice referenced a 2018 John Hopkins University study that found Black students who had just one Black teacher by third grade were 13% more likely to go onto college and those who had two Black teachers were 32% more likely.

“What makes or breaks you in the classroom is whether kids view you as real, whether they view you as genuine,” Rice said. “If they view you as real and they view you as about them, they will work with you, they will work for you and they will benefit from you.”

My teachers, I mean I don’t want to say they don’t look like me, but they don't. Let's say I want to vent to my teacher, you can't even do that because you don't know how they will react, especially over Zoom or Microsoft Teams. It just doesn't work.

– Yamah Bahddeh, a Renaissance High School senior

Yamah Bahddeh, a senior at Detroit Renaissance High School, talked about how the impact of racial disparities during the pandemic has affected her education as a Black student, especially with the lack of Black teachers.

“My teachers, I mean I don’t want to say they don’t look like me, but they don’t. Let’s say I want to vent to my teacher, you can’t even do that because you don’t know how they will react, especially over Zoom or Microsoft Teams. It just doesn’t work,” Bahddeh said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color in Michigan. Black Michiganders, which make up about 14% of the state’s population, totaled about 40 % of the deaths from COVID-19, according to the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities.

Additionally, after George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, police brutality protests in Black communities broke out in cities across the state and country for months. 

Bahddeh, who has been learning virtually throughout the pandemic, said she wishes she would have been in a classroom setting to talk about racial issues that took place during the pandemic.

“I feel like if schools start to open up, and we do have that face-to-face [learning], that those discussions still need to be had, because we haven’t talked about them, so they’re still there,” she said.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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