Students who see themselves represented within the classroom are more likely to connect with their lessons and succeed inside of the classroom. Unfortunately, many students across Connecticut do not get this opportunity.

As teachers and education supporters, it is vital that we continue to search for ways to increase teacher diversity and improve the classroom experience for all students. 

Diversity within the classroom, not just in terms of race, but also in terms of gender, allows students to experience lessons in different ways. Obtaining knowledge from multiple different perspectives allows students to understand different points of view, while also providing unique perspectives and approaches to different topics.

As a Black male teacher, I have had multiple parents alert me that I was the first male teacher their child has ever had, and that experiencing me and my teaching style has brought them out of their shell and expanded their interests in their academics. I recently had a parent tell me that their son is so excited to be in my class next school year, because he has never had a teacher who looks like him. Stories like this excite me and validate my reasons for teaching and working with students, while also working for change. 

Recently, I participated in a lobbying day in Washington D.C. as part of the Educators for Excellence National Teacher Leader Council. During this event, we focused on funding Hawkins Centers of Excellence program, which aims to increase the number of BIPOC teachers in the classroom by offering competitive grants for reforming and expanding teacher preparation programs at historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.

In my experience, most of the politicians we spoke to were very receptive to these ideas, agreeing on the importance of teacher diversity within the classroom. However, agreeing is one thing, while doing is another. We need to continue working to ensure that these legislators who support our proposals are actually providing the necessary support and funding to provide teacher diversity. 

With this teacher diversity, however, comes the importance of teacher retention throughout our Connecticut school districts. Once we have the programs in place to welcome new teachers into the classroom, our schools need to ensure they are doing everything they can to keep them in the classroom. There are obvious solutions, such as increased salary and benefits, compensation for working extra hours and recognition for our hard work. But something else to consider is the importance of empowering educators to teach the curriculum in a way that resonates with their students. 

I am empowered and encouraged to adjust my lesson plans as necessary to help my students learn in the best ways for them, rather than teaching with a cookie cutter approach that assumes all students learn the same way. This not only makes me want to stay and continue teaching and improving my lesson plans, but it also allows me to add my personality into my lesson plans and teach to what inspires my students the most. This also contributes to positively influencing student outcomes, because each teachers’ experience will allow them to bring something different to the classroom, and students will have more of an opportunity to align with what they are learning based on various teaching styles.  

An imperative part of teacher retention is understanding that students come from different backgrounds and learn in different ways. We need to make sure our teachers have the resources and tools to teach all students effectively. 

Increasing diversity in our classrooms is so vital to the experience of our students and to the future of teaching. If our students don’t see themselves reflected in their lessons, how can we expect them to connect to the material and truly learn?

Similarly, if our students don’t see themselves represented in their faculty and staff, how can we expect them to want to become educators themselves? It is important to make our voices heard and to advocate for diversity within our classrooms.

Join me in demanding our legislators make teacher recruitment, diversity, and retention a priority during the next legislative session. Fighting for a better education is an energizing experience that inspires educators like myself to continue teaching and advocating for change for our students. With this in mind, I’m optimistic about the future.

Mark Morrison is a member of Connecticut Educators for Excellence.