It is no secret that districts across New Mexico are facing a shortage in teachers.
However, there is another shortage in the number of teachers of color, which studies find can have an impact on the educational success of the state’s diverse student population.
The Washington Post published an article on Dec. 27 analyzing the student and teacher populations among most school districts in the U.S., which found teachers often do not reflect the student populations they serve.
Each district analyzed includes a statistic of the average gap between the percentage of teachers who are people of color and the percentage of students who are people of color. For example, 84 percent of students in the Santa Fe School District are people of color, while the same demographic makes up only 39 percent of the district’s teachers, leaving a gap of 45 percent total.
The average gap between students and teachers of color for districts in Rio Arriba County and northern Santa Fe County was 26 percent.
The largest gap was found at the Jemez Mountain School District, whose teachers are 39 percent people of color compared to a student of color percentage of 87.
Jemez Mountain Superintendent Dan Padilla said he was skeptical of the data, since many of his teachers are Hispanic. The Post’s data define “people of color” as all non-white populations.
The data also state that Jemez Mountain has no Native American teachers even though one-fourth of all students in the district are Native American, most of whom attend Lybrook Elementary.
Padilla said the lack of Native teachers is due to the district’s remote location from the Four Corners and other areas with higher Native populations. He said a lack of available housing in the area is also an issue.
He also said it is important for students’ success to recruit teachers who better reflect the student population.
“Having teachers that can identify with those students is huge,” he said.
Various studies also show the benefits of a more diverse teacher population.
A 2018 study by the Learning Policy Institute found that having teachers of color resulted in rising academic performances of students of color. It also decreased the chances of other teachers of color leaving the education field.
Española School District Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez said she thinks a district’s teachers should resemble the students they teach.
“I do agree with that in many ways,” she said.
Española currently has a gap of 22 percent between its teachers and students of color. Gutierrez said, despite various recruiting efforts, it has been hard to attract any teachers let alone teachers of color, although recruiting is harder with certain populations.
“Where we struggle the most is finding Native American teachers,” she said.
The same is true across many districts in Northern New Mexico, which has a higher population of Native Americans than other parts of the state, according to the Post’s data.
Gutierrez said even when they can find teachers, a lack of housing in and around Española is still a barrier, making it difficult for the district to compete with more urban areas like Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
“We hire teachers in the summer and it never fails that we lose one or two or three (due to a lack of housing),” she said.
Another district with a large gap in its number of Native American teachers is Pojoaque Valley, with around 14 percent of students being Native American.
Pojoaque Valley Superintendent Sondra Adams said in a Monday phone interview that the district’s struggles with teacher vacancies means they cannot afford to recruit specifically teachers of color.
“I have six openings in the middle of the school year, so we’re looking for any qualified teacher,” she said.
She said many local universities and colleges are not producing enough teachers to meet the demand. The University of New Mexico’s latest enrollment report shows that enrollment in the College of Education, which produces a large amount of teachers in the state, declined by nearly 30 percent over the past five years.
Adams said a solution is encouraging high school students in Pojoaque to pursue education as a career field, because students need to enter college considering becoming a teacher in order to do it.
Adams said she had never before considered the ethnic makeup of her teachers.
“For the first time, I’m looking at them from an ethnic perspective,” she said.
Adams said it is important to recruit a diverse population of teachers, but that it is also important teachers be able to build relationships with students.