To Become a Teacher, I Should “See Myself” in the Education System, Say Students of Color

To Become a Teacher, I Should “See Myself” in the Education System, Say Students of Color


Anya Grottel-Brown,, (917) 902-5902

Kelly Pearce,, (928) 925-9236

New report from Teach Plus and the Center for Black Educator Development Elevates Student Voices and Perspectives on Schools, Diversity in the Profession, and What it Would Take for Students of Color to Consider Teaching as a Career  

Washington, D.C., October 17, 2023—Research is clear: when teachers of color lead in classrooms and schools, all students benefit. Yet districts across the nation struggle to recruit and retain the diverse educators that play such a pivotal role in the lives of students. Understanding the perspectives of students of color and Indigenous students—the generation that will soon enter the workforce—is critical to identifying sustainable solutions to diversifying the teacher pipeline. Seeing Myself: Students of Color on the Pros and Cons of Becoming Teachers, a new report released jointly today by Teach Plus and the Center for Black Educator Development, spotlights the experiences and nuanced perspectives of students of color and Indigenous students and lays out the essential changes education system leaders must make to build a diverse teacher workforce.

“Listening to young people of color as part of this work has been incredibly inspiring. These students see the same opportunities as adults in their buildings to create supportive, affirming, diverse schools that meet their needs,” said Kira Orange Jones, CEO of Teach Plus. “We as policymakers and systems leaders now have a unique opportunity to center the voices of students and communities as we build a sustainable educator pipeline and create school environments where diverse students and teachers thrive.”

“James Baldwin once said, ‘Hope is invented everyday.’ But what does it take to inspire and support the hope that aspiring teachers represent? And, likewise, how do our future teachers of color inspire hope in veteran educators and younger generations of students alike? This jointly written report captures the hope within students of color and is critical because we know that in order to be best positioned for success, it is essential for students of color to also be taught by teachers of color who can serve as mirrors, not just windows, to their world,” said Sharif El-Mekki, founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development.

“When it comes to diversifying the teaching force, decision makers should listen to students because it affects us the most now and it will impact us the most in the future,” said Milan Aranda, an 18-year-old Nebraska student who participated in the focus groups that led to the report. “Schools should include everyone and every topic and culture. That is what a school of the future should look like to serve students like me.”

Seeing Myself: Students of Color on the Pros and Cons of Becoming Teachers explores what students of color and Indigenous students observe of their teachers and in their schools right now. The way students are treated by adults in the building, the curriculum and instruction they receive, the opportunities they have to connect with fellow students, and how they see their culture reflected in their school all factor heavily into whether or not they would consider teaching as a career.

For the report, Teach Plus and Teach Plus teacher leaders conducted focus groups with 103 high school students of color and Indigenous students from 18 states participating in the Educators Rising program run by PDK International. Through these focus groups, the researchers elevate five key findings:

  1. Students of color and Indigenous students value the unique benefit teachers of color have on students’ experiences in school and on their futures.
  2. Students of color and Indigenous students are drawn to the teaching profession by a desire to build strong relationships and make a difference for future generations of students.
  3. For students of color and Indigenous students, the low pay associated with teaching is a strong deterrent to choosing teaching as a future career.
  4. For students of color and Indigenous students, the representativeness of the curriculum and teachers’ level of agency in their own classrooms play an important role in shaping their school experience and influence their perspective on the attractiveness of the teaching profession.
  5. Students of color and Indigenous students need their schools to provide safe and affirming environments that value and respect their cultural identity.

“Imagine if every single teacher was an amazing teacher that was passionate about wanting to teach kids to learn. Imagine if all of us in this room never dealt with a teacher that was discriminatory. Imagine if we went to school and never dealt with microaggressions. I think that if that was the case, teaching would be a way more attractive professional area right now,” said one of the focus group respondents, an 11th grade student from Texas.

The students in the focus groups recommend the following for all systems leaders:

  • Teach teachers to respect cultures other than their own and that students don’t always need to be their source of cultural learning because it can be tiring for people, especially children, to constantly have to explain their lives to others.
  • Respond when there are racist or racially motivated things done at school.
  • Create spaces for people to share their culture.

In addition to the students’ recommendations, the researchers put forth a series of specific recommendations for ways in which school and district leaders, and state and federal policymakers can respond to the needs of students of color and Indigenous students in their schools, districts, and communities.

Recommendations for school leaders:

  1. Proactively respect and support teachers of color and Indigenous students by recruiting a diverse faculty and creating a school environment where teachers of color feel valued, respected, and protected.
  2. Encourage authentic relationships with learners that emphasize their identities and lived experience.
  3. Adopt a culturally affirming curriculum, and give teachers agency to adjust curriculum to reflect the cultures of their students.

Recommendations for district leaders:

  1. Engage in equitable budgetary practices by investing in people and programs.
  2. Leverage partnerships that help students learn more about teaching as a career.
  3. Provide culturally responsive professional development for all school leaders and teachers.

Recommendations for state and federal policy makers:

  1. Increase teacher pay—especially in states where pay is lowest—and invest in high quality and affordable educator preparation options.
  2. Prioritize culturally affirming and high-quality instructional materials and pedagogy, and support districts in building school environments that are safe and culturally affirming.
  3. Establish incentives and provide technical assistance so that districts can establish systems for teachers to exercise agency and leadership.

About Teach Plus
The mission of Teach Plus is to empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that advance equity, opportunity, and student success. In pursuing this mission, Teach Plus is guided by the Student Opportunity Mandate​: All students should have the opportunity to achieve their potential in an education system defined by its commitment to equity, its responsiveness to individual needs, and its ability to prepare students for postsecondary success. Learn more here:

About Center for Black Educator Development
Launched in June 2019, the Center for Black Educator Development’s mission is to rebuild the national Black teacher pipeline to achieve racial justice and educational equity by: strengthening pathways to becoming educators; providing professional learning grounded in cultural pedagogy; and advancing public policies and advocacy campaigns that support Black educators. The Center seeks to reclaim power and honor the legacy we inherited from those who struggled to commit to the deeply subversive, ultimately liberating, act of teaching. Learn more here:

Click here for the full report.