Portland Seeking ‘Non-White’ Teachers for Diversity’s Sake

Because students of color can’t relate to white teachers.

Portland is facing a dire problem in its public schools: too many white teachers. In fact, nearly 97% of Portland Public Schools teachers are white. However, over 40% of students aren’t, or as the Bangor Daily News states, they “identify as students of color.” (In the same article, the teachers don’t “identify” as white, they’re just called white. Just wanted to point that out.)

To fix this problem, the district has held a Friday morning class for the summer where 40 students of different colors and countries go the University of Southern Maine to learn about the educational system. But really, the university and the school district are using it as a recruitment drive to find teachers and encourage the students to choose teaching as a career. And it appears to be working, according to Bangor Daily News:

Portland High School graduate Amy Umutoni says she was originally planning to go into the medical field. But she says after working at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, she’s having second thoughts.

“It’s making me think of what I should actually do. Be a teacher or a medical doctor? What impact will I do in the community?” she says.

But there are also hangups:

Berekit Bairu already has a bachelor’s degree and taught math for 15 years in his home country of Eritrea. He says with the summer program, he’s made strong connections with the school district, but for him to actually get hired, he’ll need to get certified. That requires money and time to find the paperwork from his home country, get it translated into English and take the necessary certification tests.

Educators are pushing for diversity in the classroom like never before in order to keep up with the massive amounts of child immigrants coming into the country. They are moved by stories like this:

Mohammed Albehadli, 21, remembers arriving at a Christian school in Philadelphia only a year or so after coming to the United States from Iraq. He says when he looked around at his mostly white teachers and classmates, he felt alone.

“It felt different to not have someone I could relate to. I could see I was the only Arab there, and I only spoke Arabic. It felt like, you know if you speak two different languages? At this school, I felt like I was only the English side of me,” he says.

Albehadli moved to Portland soon after. But he says the feeling never totally went away.

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana said, “[This] was an issue that kids talked about frequently. That they really wanted to see more people in their classrooms in leadership roles, etc. that looked like them and shared their experience.”

Never mind assimilating into a new country where people look and speak different than you. But then again, this is Portland — the same place where they are dropping the family name “Lynch” from elementary schools because it sounds so racist.