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The push to diversify Arizona's teacher workforce

Posted at 12:05 PM, Jun 10, 2020

PHOENIX — For Dr. Stuart Rhoden, teaching was a family business with his mother at the helm. However, his own experiences as a student were much different.

"I have never had teachers that looked like me, even up until I got to the grad school level," said Dr. Rhoden, who is currently an instructor at Arizona State University. "My being in the classroom was my social justice, my marching, you know, my putting my feet on the ground."

It is a challenge he now encounters as a parent.

"The question of diversity and peer groups and being able to fit in, and have sort of an understanding of his cultures, both his mixed culture, was really important," said Dr. Rhoden. "We're still working on it, to give you the short answer."

The most recent numbers from the Arizona Department of Education show educators in our state don't represent the diversity of their students.

Out of nearly 60,000 certified teachers to self-report in the 2018-2019 school year, 75% identified as White, 15% identified as Hispanic or Latino, and just more than 3% identified as Black or African American.

Student data from last school year shows just 38% of Arizona's 1.2 million students identified as White, 45% identified as Hispanic or Latino, and more than 5% identified as Black or African American.

"They don't have a voice, they don't have the same opportunities for advancement," said Zel Fowler, president of the Arizona Alliance of Black Educators. "How do you say,' I want to be a teacher or I want to be a principal,' if you don't see them?"

Right now the organization is working with the Arizona Department of Education on recruiting and retaining teachers of color. They are also focused on creating a more diverse "teacher pipeline" and improving the school experience for students.

"I don't even know where we go with it, to be honest with you. When I think I think there's hope, especially with what's happening more recently, but then I look," said Fowler. "We've got so far to go and we've got so many districts to reach."

It is a daunting task, but one Fowler says benefits everyone on campus.

"That is sometimes the only opportunity a child will have to interact with someone of a different race, or ethnicity, is in the classroom or in school," she said. "Just imagine the impact they will have on, you know, on society, and just how we will all be working together and for each other."