Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) is a trailblazer in the education system, with privileges such as late start Mondays, off campus lunch, and the Health Center. However, we must address how our teaching staff does not represent the diversity of our student body at Berkeley High School (BHS). BHS students are not shy about discussing ways in which our education system can improve. The more students criticize our education system, the more we question the information we receive and from whom we receive it. Berkeley’s political climate has created a melting pot that is reflected by the diversity of the BHS student body, but students are noticing a lack of this same diversity in staff.
Representation matters; the evidence is abundant. Progress in minority representation is often measured by media: television shows, movies, and award show recognition. While there is still room for improvement, undeniable progress is being made, evidenced by feats such as Black Panther, Black-ish, and more. While media representation is good, it doesn’t have an immediate effect on day-to-day life. As BHS students develop into critically-thinking adults, it’s important that the adults they spend their day with represent important parts of their identity.
BHS has almost two hundred teachers. According to BUSD, white teachers make up 70 percent of the staff, despite the student body only being about 40 percent white. On the other hand, 15 percent of the student body is Black, yet only 8 percent of teachers. That’s no more than 16 teachers. 10 percent of BHS teachers representing the nine hundred Latinx identifying students. The need for change is obvious. Representation matters, and BHS students are not being represented.
Community Arts and Sciences (CAS) student Areli Jimenez, who has no teachers of color, says, “It would be so wonderful to have a teacher who is Latina.” She thinks such a teacher could establish trust because she “could relate to her more … she would know where [Jimenez is] coming from.” Jimenez admitted she hadn’t even thought about what an advantage it would be to have a teacher that could relate to her family. “Communicating with parents [would] be so much easier,” Jimenez added, surrounded by friends and classmates who nodded in agreement.
BHS, and BUSD as a whole, should commit to hiring only teachers of color until the staff better represent the demographics of the student body. In 2017, Carl Boisrond of National Public Radio published an article that cites a report suggesting that when teachers “looked like” their students, students reported feeling “more interested in their schoolwork” and putting forth more effort. An increase in effort and interest would ultimately lead to an increase in performance.
Representation isn’t only a problem in Berkeley, it’s a national issue. This means that BUSD and BHS need to begin increasing teacher representation, setting an example for other cities to follow. Our numbers are relatively good, but if we begin prioritizing representation, neighboring communities will take notice and follow in Berkeley’s footsteps. However, anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from hiring or not hiring people on the basis of race or gender. This means that BUSD cannot target teachers of color, nor can they avoid hiring any white teachers because of their race. Additionally, the lack of teachers of color is, a US problem, not a BUSD problem. So how can we adress this issue?
One thing that the Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) Teachers of Color Network has called out is that BUSD’s deadline for teacher hires is much later than other school districts. This restricts our access to teachers of color getting picked up by districts who can pay more and find them faster. Students at BHS need to join the BFT Teachers of Color Network in encouraging BUSD to push up this deadline, so we can better fulfill our goal of hiring more teachers of color. Students can talk to School Board Representative Estella Hemp, or contact one of the many BHS teachers in the Teachers of Color Network.