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letters | Seeking diversity in teachers

Drawing more nonwhite teachers calls for systemic approach

Are we surprised that, as your April 28 front-page headline states, diversity is low in educator courses at Massachusetts colleges? The state is encouraging more nonwhites to become teachers. But encouragement alone won’t suffice, especially when there’s so much to discourage nonwhite prospective teachers.

For example, as the article suggests, there is the tendency of some educators to view “top-notch teaching” and faculty diversity as mutually exclusive, as if any newly minted teacher was already “top-notch” and didn’t need to develop further.

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Even when schools effectively support the development of early-career teachers, the financial pressures on beginning teachers, especially those with college loans to pay, are not being addressed.

Teachers in Massachusetts need to earn a master’s degree, or its equivalent, to advance to professional licensure, according to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines. The cost of such programs, even ones that are relatively lower in cost, matters for teachers who are working at their lowest salary levels.

As the person who ran the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School’s new-teachers program for many years, I can say that most of our new teachers, the majority of whom were white and female, came to us with a master’s degree in education or an academic field, previous teaching experience at the secondary or college level, and/or multiyear experience in another profession or the arts — tough competition for a teaching candidate with no teaching experience and only an undergraduate degree.

There’s no question that Massachusetts could create a cadre of nonwhite “top-notch” teachers, but not without addressing economic, professional, and cultural factors as part of its encouragement and recruitment.

Joan S. Soble


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