“What are you … on their side?”
The comment was one of many snarky remarks white teachers made about interactions between a Latino colleague and his diverse student population.
In the staff lounge at the Sacramento, Calif., public school, the same teachers called the students “monkeys bouncing off the walls” and “losers.” The Latino teacher pushed back. But he reached a point where it was so frustrating to be in the lounge that he stopped going.
Joaquin’s story is one of many personal and emotional accounts of racism and professional isolation documented in a new book by Rita Kohli, an associate professor of education at the University of California, Riverside. Titled “Teachers of Color: Resisting Racism and Reclaiming Education,” the book was published in June by Harvard Education Press.
A former middle school teacher and teacher educator, Kohli has been a professor in UCR’s Graduate School of Education since 2014. For the past decade, she has been researching race, power, and inequity in the professional experiences and wellbeing of teachers of color. She is also a cofounder and codirector of the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice, which offers professional development opportunities to facilitate the retention, racial literacy growth, and racial justice leadership of teachers of color in K-12 public schools.
In “Teachers of Color,” Kohli describes how racism—both interpersonal and structural—serves as a continuous barrier to diversifying the teaching force. In 2020, students of color comprised half of all students in U.S. public schools, while teachers of color comprised just over 20 percent of all educators. Teachers of color leave the profession both sooner and at a higher rate than their white counterparts, driven partly because of the relentless racism and discrimination they face. But recent research on the benefits of teachers of color highlights the need to address this problem.
“Teachers of color are more likely to see students of color as capable learners, understand the racialized experiences students face, and stand as their supporters and advocates. So, students of color (and all students) benefit from the presence of teachers of color,” Kohli said.
“Teachers of Color” comprises three sections: racialization, which examines the racism teachers of color experience and the impact of that racism; resistance, which identifies tools used by teachers of color to navigate hostile climates; and reimagination, which highlights the efforts teachers of color have engaged in to pivot classrooms, schools and districts to become culturally and community sustaining sites of learning.
Kohli said the book is intended for multiple audiences, including teachers of color, whom she hopes will feel validated in their experiences and empowered as a collective group to continue to resist racism and reimagine education. White educators can also use the book to understand what teachers of color are up against and recognize their own role in resisting racism and creating climates that support the wellbeing and acknowledge the wisdom and value of teachers of color. K-12 school administrators and university teacher educators can also benefit from how the book identifies racism and possibilities toward racial justice within the structures, policies, and practices of schools, districts, and teacher education programs.
“As a society, we all need to do better in growing our racial literacies— our capacity to name, interrogate, and disrupt structural racism,” Kohli said. “The more everyone knows and is committed to challenging both legacies and current day racial oppression, the easier it will be for teachers of color and their students to maintain their wellbeing, as well as to grow, learn, and as one of the participants said, be able to find how great they truly are.”