On a typical Thursday morning at Richard Montgomery High School, my third period AP Statistics class is working on conditional probability. Although all of the students in my class are engaged in the same activity, just one look will tell you that we are anything but a homogenous group. Six of my classmates are white, six are Asian, five are black, and six are Latino. The teacher is white. As I have learned, this situation is replicated across much of Montgomery County, in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. The class has a minority majority, but the teacher is white. While 14.3 percent of students in MCPS are Asian, 21.3 percent are black, 26.6 percent are Latino, and 33 percent are white, only 30 percent of teachers are of a minority race; the other 70 percent are all white.
The disproportion between student and staff demographics has ignited debates about teacher diversity. There is a proposition that students would learn better from a teacher of a similar cultural and ethnical background. There may be truth in the statement, but what are the most important teacher qualifications that need to be considered?
Looking for answers, I paid a visit to my principal. “I look for teachers who convey a belief that with the proper intervention all students can learn,” said Mr. Damon Monteleone, principal at Richard Montgomery High School. The proper intervention, according to Mr. Monteleone, begins with a positive student-teacher relationship. “Students need to know that teachers care before they care to learn,” he says. Understandably, there is an argument that having a teacher of the same racial or ethnic background serve as a role model may help students learn, make students more comfortable in classes, and relate better to students with specific dilemmas, such as missing school for a cultural or religious event. But although ethnic background can help establish a teacher-student bond, other factors can also be highly influential. “Teachers and students may connect on various levels through basketball, or football, or something else but… I think the strongest connection formed between teacher and student is through the transfer of knowledge,” Mr. Monteleone articulated, drawing from his own experience as a teacher. “That connection is amazing.”
To understand what my peers look for in a teacher, I asked a few high school students from across the county. Jasmine Wung, a senior at Wootton High School, believed that effective teachers have to be approachable. “They have to be easy to talk to,” she concluded. “A good teacher is a person you want to be around for more than forty-five minutes at a time,” said David Edimo, a student at Richard Montgomery. His favorite teacher brought a “remarkable personality and passion to class.” Personally, my favorite teachers have been those that have inspired me to be better today than I was yesterday.
As MCPS pursues a more diverse faculty, steps are already being taken to ensure the cultural competency of our current teachers. According to MCPS’s central office, the cultural competency training that teachers receive stresses the importance of shedding all stereotypes at the schoolhouse door. Additional MCPS initiatives aim to recruit talented teachers of diverse races, backgrounds, and experiences and attract them to Montgomery County. More and more, MCPS is trying to take away the racial filter that all teachers may unconsciously have, taking away the mindset that student performance can be predicted by race. Without that mindset, the bridge between teachers and students will be even stronger.
Article by the MoCo Student Staff Writer Fonda Shen of Richard Montgomery High School
Graphic provided by courtesy of nationalreview.com