Ethnically diverse teachers are underrepresented in school districts across Illinois. Research shows that when a student resembles their teacher, the student makes a unique connection and their school performance improves.
83% of teachers in Illinois are white, according to the most recent numbers provided by the Illinois Report Card. The State Board of Education created a network to increase the number of minority teachers in public schools. The Diverse and Learner Ready Teachers initiative is looking to increase the number of minority teachers in Illinois public schools by 2025 and the number of minority teacher candidates by 2023. Maurice McDavid is part of the group.
"Our goal is really going to be to increase the diversity in that teacher pipeline and looking at who's coming into the classroom," McDavid said.
McDavid is one of twenty teachers or administrators who make up the group. He's Dean of Students at DeKalb High School and previously taught 8th graders. He said some people are uncomfortable about bringing more diverse teachers or professors into the workforce -- or even talking about it.
"I think we've got to challenge ourselves to, number one: be okay with being uncomfortable, and number two: pushing forward with the work that is being done," McDavid said.
Illinois educators must pass the Test of Aptitude Proficiency with a score of 240 out of 300. McDavid said teacher diversity is low, in part, because the pass rate for minority groups is low.
"The pass rate on that for African American candidates is under 20%," McDavid said. "The pass rate for Latino teachers on that is under 30% and so that obviously lessens your pool right away."
Some say the rate is so low for minorities because many come from schools that don't provide the resources for them to pass. McDavid said having representation in the classroom makes the experience better for the student.
"Sometimes we make connections with our eyes," he said. "I think a place where you definitely see a spike is in some of those hard-to-connect-with kids making that connection."
Angela Johnson works at DeKalb High School. The biology teacher created a club for students called Future Barb Teachers and Leaders. The new group has 10 students and is something the high school has never seen before. She said she wants to grow future teachers in the district and give students a chance to see what teaching is like.
"Our district wants to build our own staff," Johnson said. "We're also thinking that if we can bring back some of our own people, they might really love it here and they're going to be the most successful teachers."
She said teacher diversity is important to her because she only had white teachers when she was younger and it affected her later in life.
"When you get out in the real world, it's a huge shock," Johnson said. "Our teaching staff or the staff of our employees has to kind of mirror what our student population looks like."
Senior Kaitlin Seiner is a member of the club. She joined because she wants to be a teacher and the club allows her to get her foot in the door for future opportunities.
"I think students can relate to their teachers more, and I think that helps them and the learning process and growing a relationship with their teachers," Siener said.
Sophomore Hannah Wellendorf said diverse teachers are important because it's essential to have different viewpoints in the classroom.
"Just different ideas going around that different students can relate to, not just one specific type of person," Wellendorf said.
Freshman Sara McGee said being part of the club will allow her to get more experience for when she becomes a teacher. She said having a teacher that is the same gender as the student provides a person to go to in times of need.
"If a student has home issues, if they have a female or male figure in their life, then it can help out," McGee said.
Lissette Moreno-Kuri is the program director of an organization called Grow Your Own Illinois. It advocates closing the teacher-student diversity gap by creating a pipeline of teachers of color. She there's an overall teacher shortage in the state and only a small percentage of teachers are people of color.
"Specifically, in Illinois, we have a really big problem," Moreno-Kruri said. "And the problem is that over half of our students in public schools in Illinois are students of color and only 11% of [teachers] are African American or Latino."
She said people can continue supporting diversity by advocating for continued funding at the state level for their work and encourage other potential candidates to apply for their program.