Diversity in education | Diversity

Franke Kline with his granddaughter. Contributed photo

Parker Palmer reminds us that “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” This simple statement includes several important points. One of the main ones is that it implies that teaching is about relationship. It is in the connection between the teacher and student that the learning occurs. The teacher’s job is to build a connection that will foster and sustain learning.

Just last week I was sitting in my office interviewing a candidate for our new Bachelor of Applied Science in Teaching and Learning. As I talked to this young man, I thought of the wonderful assets he would bring to his own classroom—assets of language, shared ethnic background, and common experience that would help him to connect with his students. And those kinds of assets are important to students’ learning.

A study by Gershenson, Hart, Lindsay and Papageorge published just this spring has shown that having just one black teacher in grades three, four, or five, significantly reduces the probability that a black male will drop out of high school. This is particularly true among our poorest students. Furthermore, exposure to one black teacher during those grades seems to assist students to think about college or higher education as a possibility.

As we all know, diversity permeates almost all aspects of our community. South King County is one of the most diverse areas in the nation. As an educator, I’m particularly interested in how diversity is present in the schools. Sadly, while the diversity of the community is, as one would expect, reflected in the students, it is not reflected in the teachers. In the six districts surrounding Highline College, only 31 percent of the students are white, but 85 percent of the teachers are white.

Our school districts have valiantly attempted to change this. Some of them are making significant progress. However, there is still a big gap between the diversity of students and the diversity of the teachers, and much work to close it.

The causes of this gap are many and complex. Most of them relate to some aspect of access. Often, the access is related to the educational background of the potential teacher. Frequently, a person who might be a very good teacher doesn’t meet the entrance requirements of the few programs that offer teacher education in our area. Most of them require an Associate of Arts, which is a transfer degree. Many potentially strong candidates have an Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education or Paraeducation. These degrees provide immediate access to a job, but until very recently, don’t transfer into a four-year program.

The new Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degrees can offer a transfer path for students who have an Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education or Paraeducation into a teacher preparation program. BAS degrees that include teacher certification are just now being developed. Pierce College offered the first, and Highline College was second in the state to be approved for this kind of degree with teacher education. Highline College developed this degree to provide a path to a bachelor’s degree and possible teacher certification for candidates who reflect the diversity of their community.

Even though we didn’t a share common ethnic background, the student I was interviewing and I did share a common passion for education. As we talked, I found the conversation flowing more easily as he shared his dreams of contributing to the lives of young children, giving back to his community, and his hope for a steady job. We connected around a realization of the hope that education can bring—to the teacher as well as to the student.

Frank Kline is the Program Manager for the Bachelor of Applied Science in Education at Highline College. He earned a Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Kansas. Over the last 20 years, he has worked in Washington as an administrator in teacher education.