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Mel Gravely

Teachers Report Weaker Relationships with Students of Color

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a) how familiar a teacher reported being with a student; b) whether the teacher perceived the student to be passive or withdrawn; and c) whether the teacher conversed with the student outside of the classroom.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!

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  1. tauheedah Abdulkarim says:

    We are in the year 2017 and we still have to teach teachers not to discriminate against their students. What a sad state of affairs; how can we continue to participate in such barbaric behavior and call ourselves teachers.

    • melgravely says:

      TGG appreciates your response as we know this is a growing issue within our educational system. We believe it’s not about teaching teachers not to be discriminating but be more culturally aware of their student’s ethnicity/race. As the educational environment becomes more diverse across all grade levels, teachers are finding themselves in unfamiliar arenas with different cultural behaviors, beliefs, values, etc. that were not or maybe just “touched on” during their formal training. This limitation of knowledge and sensitivity can’t be a crutch but an opportunity to enhance and grow culturally. This starts with added curriculum within institutional settings, require teachers to take annual diversity training, educating and hiring more teachers of different ethnicity. Children react more positive when they see and interact with someone who looks like them – thus leading to a more balanced teaching environment where all students are treated as one. However, we must state that this topic is not a one-size fits all – there are a profound number of culturally educated teachers, principals, administrators that have gone above and beyond to ensure that all students are equally educated – regardless of race/ethnicity. As the old saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child” the same goes for education “it will take committed and dedicated educators to teach a child”.

  2. Yvette Dobbs says:

    As a former Head Start Director, I think early learning programs work with teachers to embrace diversity and meaningful engagement with families. I am sure there is still alot of work to do. But I really think programs are supporting school readiness in all children.

  3. Cynthia Hendricks Jones says:

    Diversity is here now and forever in our Head Start Centers , Teachers and staff have to get more profeshional development in effectively having inclushion in the classroom environment.I agree with with the research finding of having a more diverse teacher staff that students can relate with others that look like them . we need to think about culture rolls and not self centered stereotyping.

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