Some of the most successful entrepreneurs and executives have attributed their career success to strong bonds they shared with encouraging and inspiring teachers from their youth. A new study by NYU researcher Dr. Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng provides evidence that teachers have weak relationships with students of color and children of immigrants. The author further suggests that ethnic stereotypes inside the classroom may be perpetuated by a lack of cultural competency among teachers, and that more cross-cultural competency should be included in new teacher training to forge stronger connections with students from varied ethnicities.
The study cites longitudinal research conducted in 2002 of high school sophomores and their math and English teachers. It examines three criteria: a) how familiar a teacher reported being with a student; b) whether the teacher perceived the student to be passive or withdrawn; and c) whether the teacher conversed with the student outside of the classroom.
Although documenting the races of teachers involved in the study would have provided useful insight, the study found that there is low ethnic diversity among U.S. teachers, further making the case for more cross- cultural teacher training. Dr. Cherng believes that racial stereotypes may dominate classroom dynamics and force students of color into an uphill battle. For example, math teachers reported that their weakest relationships are with first and second-generation Latino students, a group that is generally stereotyped as low-performing and apathetic towards math. Math teachers indicated having stronger relationships with Asian-American students, who tend to be perceived as more robust math performers. In contrast, English teachers reported stronger relationships with Latino students than with other groups, ostensibly due to many hours spent working on language acquisition skills. Both math and English teachers reported strong connections with African-American students, though this may be attributable to a heavy focus on closing the achievement gap within this ethnic group.
Dr. Cherng suggests that one way teachers can build relationships with students of color and varied ethnic backgrounds is to ask for the correct pronunciation of their names. This helps teachers create a trustful and caring environment among students who may already feel marginalized. In his own experience as a teacher with a non-mainstream name, Dr. Cherng has found this small gesture often reminds students he may call on them at any time during class, keeping them alert, accountable, and engaged in classroom communication.
What do you think? How well do the teachers in your program engage meaningfully with children and families of different race or ethnicity than themselves? Leave your comments below!