In the United States, society attaches a certain stigma to jobs in the education sector. Historically, women have dominated the field of teaching, in part as a result of the prevailing belief that women are more adept at working with children than men. Even though many women have challenged this belief by making great strides in other sectors of the workforce, women are still primarily thought of as nurturers rather than the primary breadwinners of the family.
As a result of this emphasis on women, the New York Times reports that nearly three-quarters of all teachers in elementary through high school are female. On top of that statistic, over 80 percent of these teachers are white. These statistics suggest a shocking lack of diversity and growth in a profession that has historically been dominated by white females.
A major aspect of the problem is that people today believe that since teachers’ salaries are relatively low, it is unsustainable to pursue teaching as a lifelong career. It does seem true that teachers in the U.S. don’t always make a good living. Our society seems to value workers in politics and finance – positions of leadership historically dominated by men – more so than those in the field of education. Inequity arises from these leaders deeming women unworthy of making enough money to support themselves independently of their husbands. Today, the stereotypically female-dominated field of teaching maintains these low wages.
One way to diversify the field of teaching is to de-stigmatize it. In many other countries in the world, such as Japan, China and Greece, people consider becoming a teacher one’s highest calling. Therefore, it attracts a wide array of intelligent and able individuals of all genders and ethnicities. If U.S. citizens started valuing teachers in these same ways through acknowledging that one’s education serves as the foundation for one’s later pursuits, then perhaps more diverse populations will be enticed to teach.
While our society has to move away from the notion that women are best suited to work with kids while the men remain the family’s main breadwinner, we also have to encourage more men to consider using their talents as teachers. Many children’s fathers serve as their primary role model and through our society’s tendency to equate men with leadership, it has generally been ingrained in men that they are natural teachers and figures of authority. Why wouldn’t these men be just as inclined to serve as role models for more than just their own children?
Another necessary step to take in diversifying the classroom is to make quality education more easily accessible to a greater number of people. Public schools are educating the majority of American students – as well as the vast majority of students of color – and though private college preparatory schools are great, they cannot be the only means of receiving a high-quality educational background. Public schools deserve teachers, classroom materials and lesson plans that are just as rigorous as those found at a private institution.
If public schools can become promoters of great educational achievement, more diverse students will become academically motivated and maybe even pursue their own teaching careers, as their own educations will have motivated and influenced them positively. For all kids to be successful, they sometimes have to be shown that people like them are just as capable as others who may benefit from certain advantages, whether they are related to ethnicity, class or gender. Students could benefit from a role model who looks like them to prove that they are capable of success, no matter the disadvantages they may face. This fact has surfaced in the countless discussions about diversifying fields other than teaching, and it is equally relevant here.
When it comes down to it, the American people are often blindsided by how much emphasis the government places on the importance of careers in finance and politics. Those two industries do not negate the importance of the field of teaching, but the emphasis on their importance to the exclusion of all else overshadows other important careers. If the powers that be were to take some of that emphasis away from Washington and Wall Street and put some more on education, we could maybe expect to see an increase in more diverse teachers.
There is no one right way to combat the lack of diversity in the classroom. Even if the government responds by increasing teaching wages or putting more of a societal emphasis on education, it still will take a while before the American classroom reaches a level of prestige and honor that the classroom has in other countries.
This is sad because teaching can be a very rewarding profession that has a huge impact on the lives of virtually every American citizen. Hopefully, Uncle Sam agrees and gives teaching wages the bump they deserve.
Conor Devlin ’17 firstname.lastname@example.org is from New York City, N.Y. He majors in English with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies.
Nina Hagen ’15 email@example.com is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English with a concentration in women’s and gender studies.