UC Berkeley assistant professor works to increase diversity in teaching workforce

Travis J. Bristol/Courtesy

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UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education assistant professor Travis Bristol is working to increase diversity in the teaching workforce within communities of color to match the student populations it teaches.

While attending public school as a teenager, Bristol realized that most of his teachers were white, and these teachers were teaching students a more Eurocentric curriculum, according to a Berkeley News article. In the article, Bristol said his teachers did not understand the generational trauma students of color faced. Bristol’s teachers were unable to relate to their students due to their differences in narratives.

“I had come from a place where, at assemblies, I sang songs like, ‘I’m a promise, I’m a possibility, I’m a promise with a great big bundle of potentiality,’ in elementary school,” Bristol said in the article. “Then, I go to this school, and I’m being told by a teacher that, as a black male, I’m going to be dead or in jail by 18.”

These experiences inspired Bristol to pursue his research and work at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education, pushing for diversity of public school teachers in urban settings.

Bristol’s research has shown that students of color, particularly Black and Latinx students, would benefit from more male teachers of color. Teachers of color were able to support the social and emotional development of their students during the late 19th and early 20th centuries of state-sanctioned school segregation.

Once there is improvement in diversity in the teaching workforce, Bristol said the country will come closer to being “E pluribus unum,” a Latin phrase that means “out of many, one.”

According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Education titled, “The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce,” the public school student population is projected to increase in diversity in the coming years. By 2024, white students will represent 46% of public school students — a drop from 51% in 2012.

During the same 12-year span, there will be an increase in the Asian/Pacific Islander and Latinx student population percentage by 1% and 5%, respectively. Black students are projected at 15% in 2024, compared to 16% in 2012.

The elementary and secondary school teacher workforce, however, was not as diverse compared to the student population.

In the 2011 to 2012 school year, 82% of public school teachers were white, according to the report. In contrast, 16% of students were Black and 7% of public school teachers were Black. Additionally, while 24% of students were Latinx, 8% of teachers were Latinx.

“We are many people who see the value in each other and celebrate each other, and we can’t get to one if we can’t get to many,” Bristol said. “We don’t get to the unum if we don’t value the pluribus.”

Marc Escobar is the lead race and diversity reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @mescobar_dc.