The Value of Teachers of Color: Professional Article Synthesis

People of color face a myriad of barriers to becoming (& staying) teachers in their communities. To understand the value of teachers of color (TOCs) & how their presence is threatened, I will examine these articles:

  • Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse, High-Quality Teacher Workforce, published by an independent and non-profit thinktank, the Intercultural Development Research Association ( Its two authors, Desiree Carver-Thomas and Kristin Grayson, hold between them 2 Ph.Ds., an MS, MA, and an MMP in ed.; have worked over 25 years in NYC and Oklahoma City public schools, as teachers, consultants, and resource coordinators; and have been published in peer-reviewed journals.
  • America Needs More Teachers of Color and a More Selective Teaching Profession, written by Lisette Partelow, a former DC public school teacher & senior legislative assistant, for the Center for American Progress. Although this thinktank has close ties to neoliberal education policy-makers (the Obama Administration, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), Partelow’s article still has important implications for grassroots-oriented teachers of color.

Why TOCs matter

Unconscious Bias in Education:

Both articles site the Pygmalion Effect as a reason why we need more TOCs. This psychological phenomenon describes how the expectations a teacher has for a student affects that student’s outcomes:

  • If a teacher expects a student to succeed, they will perform better&
  • If a teacher expects a student to fail, they will perform worse (Carver-Thomas, Grayson, 2017).
  • This is because of teachers’ unconscious behavior cues that students pick up on, as well as the amount of effort a teacher is willing to put in for a student depending on their expectations (Partelow, 2017).

“Teachers of color tend to have higher expectations of students of color” than white teachers, (Partelow, 2017, para. 5), which, as we know from the Pygmalion Effect, results in better outcomes for students of color.  Similarly, TOCs reduce the threats that stereotypes can have on student achievement.

Both articles list positive effects TOCs have on all students, regardless of race. They are cultural ambassadors: Relationships between TOCs and white students work at “neutralizing unconscious bias” in whites (Carver-Thomas, Grayson, 2017, para. 6).


Recruiting TOCs:

Partelow’s work focuses on how TOC recruitment is challenged by a national trend for schools and teaching programs to push for more selectivity in staffing (Carver-Thomas, Grayson, 2017). While there is a national call for increasing teacher quality, there is also fear that selectivity measures—such as GPA requirements (which does not necessarily correlate to teacher quality) & experience—will raise barriers for qualified TOCs who, because of systematic racism, have fewer educational opportunities Carver-Thomas, Grayson, 2017).

TOC Turnover:

Meanwhile, Carver-Thomas & Grayson focus more on the challenges of lowering TOC turnover, which is 26% higher than that of white teachers. This is unsurprising, considering that ¾ TOCs are in majority-student of color schools, and must deal with the systematic racism that leads to underfunding, overcrowding, and apathetic—or just bad—administrators (#1).



Recruiting: In order to build more quality teachers of all races in ways that do not pose barriers to people of color, Partelow looks at how some school districts have begun working with teaching graduate schools to create residency programs, which use federal funds to have graduate students apprentice in public schools. These apprentices are given a salary (from federal or state funds) and commit to teaching at these schools for 3-4 years after they graduate. So far, about half of apprentices have been TOCs (Carver-Thomas, Grayson, 2017).


Carver-Thomas & Grayson suggest that we inspire youth of color from a young age to become educators through peer tutoring programs where students help other students (Partelow, 2017).


Turnover: decreases when TOCs have influence in schools & autonomy in their classrooms (#1).

  • TOCs benefit from the kinds of reform that benefit schools in general:
    • “Comprehensive professional development and cultural competency training and
    • “Access to essential resources” (Carver-Thomas, Grayson, 2017, para. 26).
    • Smaller class sizes
    • Mentoring (Partelow, 2017)


I’ve emphasized the solutions posed by these articles that communities can achieve on a more local level. Through building a network of TOCs & their communities, systematic barriers can be broken.



Carver-Thomas, D., & Grayson, K. (2017). Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse, High- Quality Teacher Workforce. Intercultural Development Research Association. Retrieved from

Partelow, Lisette. (2017). America Needs More Teachers of Color and a More Selective Teaching Profession. Center For American Progress. Retrieved from

Photo: World Counts Productions. (2015). Retrieved from