Illustration by Mia Turner
Just over 45 percent of public school teachers in California are white women, according to California Department of Education statistics for the 2016-2017 school year. Even though the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) prides itself on diversity of students, this does not translate over to its teachers.
BUSD has been racially integrated for over half a century, yet barely 20 percent of the teaching force is Hispanic, even less, just under four percent, are African American. There are 14 percent less African American teachers now than there were in 1968, when schools were first integrated.
Devon Magaña, a mixed race teacher at BHS, says that the reason for the gap is institutionalized racism, which is found within any institution of authority, even schools.
A few weeks ago, Berkeley celebrated its 50 year anniversary of being fully racially integrated, both for teachers and students.
After over 200 years of both forced and voluntary migration to America, many people of color have been given very different levels of access to education and employment.
Before the Brown v. Board of Education case classified segregation as unconstitutional in 1954, which integrated schools across America, there were segregated schools for Asian, Latino, and African American children. In the instance of African American schools, they were staffed by African American teachers.
When schools were integrated, African American teachers, many of whom had found a stable job in segregated schools, found that newly integrated schools would not hire them, and the small percentage who were hired were often given positions as janitorial staff or coaches, not as teachers or members of the administration. This trend has continued to present day, despite the well documented drawbacks to a non-diverse teaching force.
“I realized that I have a really cool opportunity and a gift,” said Magaña. “Not a lot of people can teach and I am pretty good at it so I am more than happy to do that.” When it comes down to it, if you are talented at teaching, no matter your ethnicity or gender, it is your responsibility to share your gift with the world.
“I try to make sure that there is stuff students can relate to in what I teach. I do that by using students as examples and trying to really invite people’s culture into the classroom,” Magaña said. These are a few of the strategies that Magaña uses to help her students engage with the lessons and curriculum. “I think it’s important for our black and brown kids to see people of color in positions of authority, and in positions where they are seen as intellectual,” Magaña said.
The dropout rate of African American students in California last year was 15 percent, but according to a 2017 study conducted by John Hopkins University, American University, and University of California, Davis, students of color have a higher graduation rate when they have had one or more teachers the same race as them during their education. This gives them a role model in academics, and breaks stereotypes about who they are and what they can aspire to be in life.