Why Educator Representation Matters

School Leadership | 06/03/2020

Toya Fick
Executive Director, Oregon

I’ve lived in Oregon for ten years, but I’ve never felt more comfortable here than I have in the last two months. I realized recently that it’s because I’ve been in my own home, in my neighborhood, only visiting my local parks and grocery stores – which means the only people I encounter are people I know, who know me. This means they are less likely to feel threatened by me, treat me like I don’t belong, or stare at me wondering what a Black woman is doing in “their” community.

Why am I telling you this? It’s because I believe that the injustices we are seeing today – the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and the many other Black lives lost across our country past and present – start in the classroom.  

We can begin to address this by ensuring our children – of all races – not only have access to education, but access to teachers of color. It’s been proven that having teachers of color not only positively impacts children of color, but has a lasting impact on white students as well. All students should grow up seeing people of color in leadership roles. I wrote an Opinion piece in the Oregonian today on the subject, you can read it here. 

Even the fact that Coronavirus is having a disproportionate impact on people of color can be traced back to our classrooms. How? Because the people most likely to be directly impacted by Coronavirus suffer from the conditions that poverty creates. And we know that the best ticket out of poverty is ... education. 

It’s all connected.  

Policing, education, healthcare, housing – each must be mended before we can heal from the effects of racial inequality. If we can treat one, the rest will be stronger for it. But now, amidst looming budget cuts, our path to racial equity in education is facing roadblocks. Oregon law requires schools to consider a seniority-based layoff system, commonly referred to as “last-in, first-out," which prioritizes keeping teachers with seniority on staff and laying off the newest hires. This policy directly conflicts with efforts in recent years to hire teachers of color and close the race gap that has long troubled Oregon schools. We cannot afford to lose the momentum we’ve built by allowing policies like “last-in, first-out” to erode progress that has and will have such far reaching impact for our state and our country.  

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