ANNAPOLIS – Maryland schools are having trouble finding enough teachers, and with a growing minority population, the state is even further behind hiring minority teachers.
About 22 percent of Maryland teachers are minorities compared to 44 percent of students. The discrepancies are particularly large in urban districts like Prince George’s County and Baltimore and in the small rural districts on the Eastern Shore.
School officials, teachers and politicians statewide say the problem is difficult to attack because there is no single cause. Some districts did not regard minority shortages as a problem until recently, others have trouble selling their rural locations to prospective applicants and some simply need more minority teachers than state universities can produce.
Without minority teachers, students of color have difficulty finding role models at school, experts say.
Although many counties recognize the problem, they aren’t making much progress. The percentage of minority teachers in the state has remained stagnant since 1993, while the percentage of minority students has increased about 3 percent. The problem is only expected to get worse, education officials say.
Many school districts are having a hard time attracting teachers, period. And almost all are facing shortages in math, science and foreign languages. The problem is a national one. Public schools will hire more than 2 million teachers in the next 10 years to deal with an increasing student population, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and colleges are not producing enough qualified teachers to meet the demand.
In the face of this bigger problem, the effort to recruit minorities takes a back seat. But schools cannot forget the need for diversity, writes U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley in a November 1998 article for the journal Education and Urban Society.
“Diversity in teaching sends a powerful message – that a good education can be a road to success for everyone,” Riley wrote. “By their shining example, teachers of color help fight the tyranny of low expectations – the pernicious voices that whisper in young ears, `You can’t do it. Don’t even try.'”
Education researchers agree.
“Research suggests that teachers of color give students of color hope that they too can grow up to occupy responsible positions in our society,” Beatriz Chu Clewell and Anna Maria Villegas write in another Education and Urban Society article. “White students can also benefit from a racially and ethnically diverse teaching force. By seeing people of color in professional roles, white youngsters are helped to dispel myths of racial inferiority and incompetence that many have come to internalize about people of color,” they wrote.
Districts seeking more minority teachers are finding that competition is fierce and candidates are hard to find. On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, for example, many of those doing the hiring say minority teachers are a priority. But selling them on a rural county far from Baltimore and Washington that doesn’t pay particularly well can be hard. The problem on the Shore is particularly bad. About 24 percent of students on the Eastern Shore are black, but only 10 percent of teachers are black. In some counties, the discrepancy is much larger. In Dorchester County, 41.5 percent of students are black but only 16.7 percent of teachers are black. In Somerset County, the numbers are 45.6 percent for students and 21.7 percent for teachers.
“I ask myself what would make someone come to Worcester County and it’s hard,” said William Gore, personnel director for Worcester County Schools, where 29.4 percent of students are black and 12.3 percent of students are black. “It’s hard to talk to people about it.”
Worcester County pays better than most counties on the Eastern Shore, contains factories where teacher spouses can work and features Ocean City. It is one of the few counties there not facing a general teacher shortage.
But most minority students want to start off working in urban areas, Gore said, and others can’t resist higher salary offers from private industries also hungry for talented minority candidates.
Despite a sizable black population, the Eastern Shore is not known for being progressive on race issues. Delegate Rudolph C. Cane, D-Wicomico, became the first black delegate ever from the Eastern Shore this year. In Wicomico County, 34.5 percent of students are black while only 13.8 percent of teachers are black. Cane knows these numbers are bad.
“We’re losing role models for the black community,” he said.
But Cane isn’t sure how his heavily depressed county can attract teachers of any color, much less focus on minorities.
“It’s a beautiful place to raise a family … we don’t have much crime and we have two universities and a community college down here,” he said. “But as long as industry keeps leaving, it will be very difficult to put money into education.”
Most black teachers who settle on the Eastern Shore either come from the area or go to college there, Gore said. But as national competition for minority teachers increases, college job fairs on the shore are being raided by school districts from other states. At a recent fair on the University of Maryland- Eastern Shore campus, recruiters showed up from as far away as Michigan and Ohio, Cane said.
Many young minorities remain scared of being in schools where they are the only black, or the only Hispanic, or the only Korean, said Mamie J. Perkins, personnel director for Howard County schools. This fear seems reasonable considering 40 percent of schools in the country don’t have a single minority teacher.
Most educators agree it is bad for students to never learn from someone of a different race.
Quality, however, should not be sacrificed in a blind effort to meet quotas, Perkins said.
“To be honest, the kids don’t put that much emphasis on whether teachers look like them,” she said. “They say, `That person cared or that person knew me.'”
Unfortunately, Maryland universities don’t produce enough talented minorities who want to be teachers, many administrators say.
“We’re consciously trying to produce more,” said Charles Beatty, an associate dean at the University of Maryland’s College of Education. “Unfortunately, like many young people, they see dollar signs as paving for the road to a successful career.”
The College of Education tries to recruit from the large minority populations at state community colleges, Beatty said, but it’s difficult to compete with business and pre-professional schools.
Recruiters also aggressively stake out traditionally black colleges like Howard and Morgan State. “But we’re all competing for the same relatively small pot of folks,” Perkins said.
It is a competition schools on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland are unlikely to win. Even Baltimore and Prince George’s County cannot come close to matching their rates of minority students, because there are simply not enough candidates. In Baltimore, 85.7 percent of students are black and 61.2 percent of teachers are black. In Prince George’s, 84.7 percent of students are minorities while only 42.8 percent of teachers are minorities.
Prince George’s and several other counties including Howard have special problems, because large portions of their minority students are either Hispanic or Asian, and there are very few Hispanic or Asian teacher candidates. For now, however, the problem of teacher diversity remains large and nebulous. “Maybe no one realized it was a big deal until now, maybe they’re afraid to touch it because the conversation on race is tenuous in this country,” Perkins said. “But it really doesn’t matter what the reasons are, because the outcome has remained the same.” -30-