News + Ideas
What if Every Child had a Teacher Who Looked Like Him or Her?
October 23, 2019
By Tiffany Cheng Nyaggah, Partner
I am unmistakably Asian American. A child of Chinese immigrants, I grew up in Oakland and was educated in diverse public schools. As I look back on my educational and career journey, much of it was guided by questions of creating belonging — for me and for others. I’ve studied, lived and worked as an educator in cities across the country and spent a decade living abroad.
I met and married a fellow Californian who immigrated from Kenya as a child. Now I’m back in Oakland raising our biracial son whose birth and first few years in Kenya inevitably formed his early perspective on the world. Like all parents, I want him to embrace his beautiful background…which is quite different from most of the students in his preschool class.
And that’s why I’m so excited about the work I’m doing right now to help create a different experience for students all over the country whose identities are like mine…and like those of my son. I am thrilled to be part of the team at NewSchools that gets to announce the first cohort of Diverse Teachers grantees. These organizations are committed to supporting teachers of color by strengthening their instructional practice, with the goal of making a positive impact on student outcomes. With generous support from the Walton Family Foundation, we are able to provide funding and management assistance to support 14 organizations that advance educator diversity:
This work is especially meaningful to me because when I left Oakland for college, I recall thinking I didn’t have an education that fully reflected my experiences or enabled me to pursue my interests. When I was a little girl, I just knew how I felt. Now, I know about research that shows students are more likely to do well when they have teachers who look like them and share their experiences.
I want my son, and all students, to have an experience that affirms his identity. So far, we’ve been fortunate to have our son play and learn in a multi-cultural, diverse educational environment. He is only four years old. He switches easily between Cantonese, Kikuyu, and English, and is learning a little bit of Spanish from one of his teachers. He is happy, loved and already understands that his brown skin makes him similar and different from his friends.
Next year, when he starts kindergarten in the same city schools I attended, I wonder how his educational experience will change. Solely based on demographics of the teaching profession, I know he may not have a diverse set of teachers. And, I wonder what that will mean for him, a little boy with ancestral roots in Hong Kong and Kenya, lovely curls, and brown skin.
I hope he will have teachers — Asian and Black — who look like him and know the impact they can have by creating a sense of belonging for all children. I believe the work we are doing at NewSchools will help make it more likely that my son and students everywhere will see their identities reflected in their teachers, and know that their biggest dreams and aspirations have a place in our interconnected world.
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