Suburbs facing lack of minority schoolteachers

ST. PAUL (AP) — The gap between rising minority enrollment and an overwhelmingly white teaching force — recognized for some time in city schools — is now becoming more apparent in the suburbs.
Even though some Twin Cities suburbs now have percentages of minority students in the double-digits, suburban schools have a harder time attracting minority teachers.
Suburban school officials say that the few minority teacher candidates in the hiring pool tend to believe they’ll have a greater impact in city schools.
“Nationwide the pool is narrow because kids of color, especially, are not graduating from college,” said Mark Schelske, chairman of the education department at St. Olaf College. “If you don’t have appropriate role models in the classroom, you’re not going to get turned on to the educational environment and you don’t see yourself as that leader and that role model.”
This summer, 46 black, Asian and Hispanic high school and college students from all over the state attended a week-long conference at St. Olaf College’s Institute for Multicultural Connections.
The 3-year-old project is designed to plant the seed of a teaching career with talented young people. It’s no easy task. The average starting pay for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in Minnesota is around $23,800.
The students who attend the annual St. Olaf workshops must have completed 10th grade and are recruited from teacher-of-color programs in Minnesota school districts.
Nakeela Wright, 24, plans to spend a few years teaching in the K-12 system, then go into administration. Perhaps some day, she said, she will become a principal or even a superintendent.
Wright, who is black, attended the conference at St. Olaf last month.
She came away convinced that minority teachers are desperately needed.
“When children are younger and if there are people of color in the classroom, they can say, ‘Whoa, this is a person just like me,'” Wright said. “I’m not saying white teachers are bad, because I’ve had many white teachers who I love and have taught me really well. But sometimes seeing someone up there that looks just like you or similar to you is powerful. It’s a very deep image and it can go a long way.”
Betty Webb, executive director of the Richard Green Institute for Teaching and Learning at Augsburg, agrees.
“I came from Louisiana, where all the teachers looked like me, to Minnesota, where none of the teachers looked like me. And I want to tell you, it was culture shock. I didn’t feel I had people I could go to in confidence. I felt isolated. It was a very lonely situation. And as a result, my grades dropped,” Webb said.