As a student of color in classrooms in Newark, New Jersey, Anastacia Ramkishun says she seldom has had teachers who looked like her. Now, as a high school junior preparing to apply to colleges, she’s looking to change that narrative.
With plans to become an English teacher, Ramkishun, a junior at Science Park High School, says her students will benefit from seeing a teacher of color in their classroom. “I feel I’ll have a better understanding of diverse students, that they’ll be more comfortable and open up to me,” she says.
Ramkishun was among the high school students attending a conference “Inspiring and Motivating a Diverse Teacher Workforce” hosted by Montclair State University. “It’s exciting to see you have an opportunity to be inspired, to be committed, to find out what your purpose is,” said Jennifer Robinson, executive director of Montclair State’s Center of Pedagogy.
Montclair State has taken a leadership role in tackling major issues that have dominated the education conversation, including preparing talented teachers and diversifying the educator workforce. Research shows a more diverse workforce is crucial to all students, yet with a majority of the New Jersey’s public school students being students of color, just 16 percent of the state’s teachers are teachers of color.
“You have the power to preserve our lives for the future because that’s what is at stake right now in this world and in this country,” Robinson said, opening the conference on January 8 to 300 high school students, their teachers and counselors.
Research shows that teachers of color play a key role in student success, said Tamara Lucas, dean of the College of Education and Human Services. “People of color or people from diverse racial, ethnic, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds can better understand the life experiences and cultures of students who typically are not well served by the schools.”
The research also highlights higher academic performance, graduation rates and college enrollment when teachers share race or gender with their students. Absenteeism, suspensions and expulsions are reduced.
Throughout the day, the high school students took part in presentations and breakout sessions led by New Jersey’s top educators. Reflecting on their own educational experience, they also shared indelible memories of teachers who inspired them.
The event was supported by a grant from the New Jersey Department of Education, which has recognized Montclair State for “Diversifying the Teacher Pipeline” by providing the funding to develop programs that recruit, prepare, support and place a diverse pool of teaching candidates in New Jersey schools.
“We’re here to ignite a vision of hope and possibility in your hearts,” Robinson said. “We want you to know how important you are, how important it is that you remind us of our roots of resilience and persistence and fortitude.”
Workshops focused on ways to foster diversity and enhance creativity, collaboration and cultural competency. Leaders introduced teaching concepts such as fairness, equity and social justice.
“When we’re talking about equity, it means that every child receives what they need to develop their full academic and social potential,” said keynote speaker Micia Mosely, founding executive director of The Black Teacher Project.
“This is really about building community and building community to make a world that works for everyone,” Mosely said. “That’s what this job is. It is my hope for you that when you go into teaching, or whatever you do, that you work to build a world that works for everyone.”