Making Minority Staff Feel Welcome

By Linda Noel-Batiste and Tiffany Toledo

When new teachers make decisions about where and why they want to teach in certain school districts, salary often drives their final choice. But as they continue in their careers, what becomes important is the attention that the district pays to professional development and how the rest  of the staff contribute to a positive school environment.

Unfortunately, those concerns rarely are considered until problems start, particularly for minority teachers. Their struggle to exist in culturally homogeneous school environments is often overshadowed by the quest to raise test scores. Many suffer in silence while others simply go through the motions.

Through our research at Virginia State University, we have examined how minority teachers view where they work and how it affects their ability to grow professionally. By examining some of the social and cultural factors that obstruct and hinder learning for minority teachers in culturally homogenous environments, school boards and administrators can assess how to help them develop professionally and deepen their content knowledge.

From our experience, administrators have limited knowledge of the needs of minority teachers. The statement is not an indictment, but an area where educators have not devoted considerable time or effort. Until we do, it is our belief that many minorities will not actively and fully engage in professional development opportunities. They will hold back a vital part of themselves -- their cultural identities -- because they fear rejection and feel their colleagues will be insensitive to their educational experience and pedagogical practice.

In our view, minority teachers are at risk of being left behind because professional development opportunities are overshadowed by school environments that are not as inclusive as they initially thought. When school administrators fail to observe that minority teachers are not fully engaged, they contribute to those feelings of isolation and frustration.

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