Can teachers and schools adapt to rise in non white students?

A reader sent me this note after reading the AJC story that more than half of the children under age 2 in the U.S. are now minorities:

Our student demographics will also be majority non white children in 3 years.  Can you please post a discussion topic on this?  I am interested to hear the opinions of those teachers who think they would only be teaching white students all their lives.

Are there teachers who thought they’d be teaching white students all their lives?

I have interviewed principals and researchers over the years who have said that some white teachers cannot work in an urban school with majority minority students because they are either afraid of the students or unable to relate to them.

And I have friends back in New Jersey who have chosen to teach in parochial schools because they attended Catholic schools and are more at ease in that setting. (But urban parochial schools in New Jersey are not all white and weren’t back when I attended, either.)

But for the most part, I would assume that teachers today expect diverse classrooms. And I would still maintain that it is not racial diversity that challenges teachers, but economic diversity. If you grew up middle class with two parents, I would think that it would be hard to relate to the world of a poor child in a single parent home with few supports.

But I am also assuming that as professionals teachers will adjust to the changing student demographics. I do think, however, that some of the societal shifts — including the rise in single mother households, which typically aligns with higher poverty  — put added burdens on schools.

Here is what the story says in part:

Preliminary census estimates also show the share of African-American households headed by women — mostly single mothers — now exceeds African-American households with married couples, reflecting the trend of declining U.S. marriages overall.

The findings, based on the latest government data, offer a preview of final 2010 census results being released this summer that provide detailed breakdowns by age, race and household relationships.

Demographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation yet of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury.

“We’re moving toward an acknowledgment that we’re living in a different world than the 1950s, where married or two-parent heterosexual couples are now no longer the norm for a lot of kids, especially kids of color,” said Laura Speer, coordinator of the Kids Count project for the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

189 comments Add your comment

Dr. Monica Henson

June 23rd, 2011
6:07 pm

Maureen, the question is not can they, but how will they? Teachers in public schools will not have a choice, other than to transfer to schools where only white families live, and these are disappearing. When I started teaching in Gwinnett back in the mid-1980s, Dacula High School only had 350 students, almost all of whom were white, and most of the high schools in the district were majority white. Two decades later, Gwinnett is now a majority-minority district.

You are correct that for teachers the disconnect is more an issue of socioeconomics than race and ethnicity. Most public school teachers in the United States have been raised in middle-class homes and attended schools in middle-class communities. When I served as an institute director for The New Teacher Project and the department of education in Massachusetts, I provided intensive training to alternative certification candidates on how to cope with the sometimes drastic conditions they would encounter when they went into high-need urban schools.

Many districts now have school-based study groups on Ruby Payne’s work on understanding the culture of poverty in order to help teachers comprehend how differently their students are being raised.

A Voice of Reason 2011

June 23rd, 2011
6:12 pm

A teacher from the heart will TEACH all students regardless of the student’s race. My best teachers, Black and White, were always concerned about all students and able to teach all students even if they were challenged relating to the student’s experiences. Any person who claims to be a teacher but who is comfortable in the belief that they cannot teach children of color should do all children a favor and find another profession. All children deserve better than that.


June 23rd, 2011
6:18 pm

I had student teaching 39 years ago in Alabama. I taught in a mostly white classroom but never thought a lot about it. Schools(K–12 public) in Alabama had become integrated 5–6 years earlier, and I had a few black friends in high school and college. When I had inquired about a system in Georgia, the superintendent told me, over the phone, that his was an “all-white system” and I could not figure out what he meant. I have done most of my work in this largely-white system, which, in 1986 added its first Latino family. Latino children now comprise about about 15% of the students. Many of the teachers at my school are local folks and have very, very limited experience with other races or ethnicities, although most appreciate the hard-working nature of our Latino kids. I think all teachers need ESOL training and training in how different SES groups tend to think and relate to the world.


June 23rd, 2011
6:27 pm

I’m still surprised at the question.

Dr. Monica Henson

June 23rd, 2011
6:30 pm

@A Voice of Reason 2011: well said!

@Catlady: I agree strongly with the need for ESOL training for teachers, as well as training in the SES differences.

Douglas County teacher

June 23rd, 2011
6:31 pm


June 23rd, 2011
6:39 pm

@ScienceTeacher, I’m with you. We are in the 21st century aren’t we?!


June 23rd, 2011
6:40 pm

RJ, I thought we were…maybe you and I are, and some of the others are still trying to catch up?

science teacher

June 23rd, 2011
6:45 pm

I grew up in a rural area mostly white area. However, when I did my student teaching, I had to do half a semester in a suburban school and half in an inner city school. I found my passion teaching those inner city kids. I tried to go back to where I grew up and teach the kids like me. It did not work for me. I did not feel needed. I came to Atlanta a year later and took a job in a school that was and is primarily African American. I have been there for 15 years. I love it. I love my students. Some of the adults I could do without, but what can you do?

I don’t teach African American students. I don’t teach Latino students, or caucasian students. I teach children. I don’t care what color they are. They need me to provide instruction, and I need them so that I can do what I love to do.


June 23rd, 2011
6:50 pm

I don’t know the answer to the question, but, the black community has to get their act together. They are going downhill fast and it starts with kids with no father and little money.

Atlanta mom

June 23rd, 2011
6:51 pm

Glad I’m not the only one confused by this question.


June 23rd, 2011
6:52 pm

If they can’t adapt, then they need to find another profession.

Reality check

June 23rd, 2011
7:08 pm

@ST671 and others – If you don’t recognize the amount of racist teachers there are in this state, and the implications of this population trend, then I worry about your ability to even comment on this post.

I can easily say that at least half of the teachers I have worked with in this state are racist, and not the least repentant about it.

Maureen Downey

June 23rd, 2011
7:13 pm

@Science, I don’t think teachers are worried about teaching more “non white kids,” but I do think that there are teachers who prefer middle-class schools because students have fewer of the problems related to poverty, homelessness, evictions, parents losing jobs, lights being turned off, substance abuse.
I have had teacher friends move from urban schools to suburban ones because they felt like the needs of the students were overwhelming at the inner city school and they needed a respite from the daily grind.

S GA Teacher

June 23rd, 2011
7:16 pm

I use to teach in a 40% minority school and moved to a 20% minority school. It was a huge difference for me. I didn’t expect how much easier classroom discipline became, test scores were higher. I think it’s a legitimate question that many teachers talk about to people they feel won’t feel offended. There are differences. For teachers getting closer to burnout, they sometimes are moved to “easier” schools. This is just a fact. I’ll teach children, but I won’t pretend that I wouldn’t consider ethnicity or economic conditions if I had to choose where to teach again. Teaching is more demanding in a higher minority school- and that impact affects teacher’s families and life outside of school. It is a consideration.


June 23rd, 2011
7:29 pm

These days children are children! I have yet to meet a child who did not have a severe issue at home and needed understanding and love. I have been in education since I was 21 years old; I am now 44 and have noticed a theme: children are children no matter what race or ethnic group. I am Black; grew up in a military environment; the majority of my friends were (are) White; both of my parents were in the home; and of course we were upper middle class…technically I do not have a thing in common with my babies, but I want them to have the absolute best of EVERYTHING! In this day and age, that would be an education and a top-rate one at that.

The real question is—how many of us really and truly believe that this immigration bill is a slap in the face to the very children we teach?

Dr. Monica Henson

June 23rd, 2011
7:30 pm

@science teacher: Thank you for your passion and commitment to the children who need you the most. ALL kids deserve accomplished teachers, but the sad reality is that the neediest kids often do not get the teachers who can help them the most. You are clearly one of those. Well done!

Retired teacher

June 23rd, 2011
7:39 pm

Well, here in my county–it is 95-5 with white being in the minority. Just hated it when a person would look at me and say–”you can’t teach black children”. I was unsure at first what they meant when I heard this. I am a trained professional–and can teach anyone. More a question of does the student WANT to learn and does the home support the school. Nonsense about having to be the same race to teach a student.

I had no more than 1 student who looked like me in my classroom. Most of the time, I was the only white teacher in the school. Makes no difference to me–I am there to teach students.

My DF was a HS principal and said in the 50s, 60s, and 70s that children act at school just like they do at home. He was correct–still true. Bring lack of respect, dislike for Reading, and no manners with them. Home training is not like it used to be.

Be dispectful to your Mother or Grandmother and you will treat the teacher the same way. Hit or curse your family and you will do the same to the teacher.

rap teacher

June 23rd, 2011
7:45 pm

White public school teachers will flee as soon as they realize that trying to bring order to a majority black class will be “racism,” and trying to bring order to a majority Mexican class will be “imperialism”. It just won’t be worth the effort.

Time for blacks to teach blacks and Whites Only to teach Whites Only. We had segregation for a reason, and we’re about to get a big reminder.


June 23rd, 2011
7:51 pm

Well, I only worry about the language-barrier; not the color. I worry because even though these children were born in the USA per the census, their parents and family may still speak another language. Therefore, they will still come to PreK and elementary school needing to learn English. I would think elem. teachers would have that concern. Since I teach MS, hopefully they will know English pretty well by 6th grade.
As for their color, oh well. They are children; I’m the adult/professional/teacher. I can teach and they will pass – that’s my job to make sure it occurs. They may get extra chances – retakes, summer school – but they will succeed because I want them to. I push very hard, even when parents fight back, and this is what makes students succeed.

Keeping It Real

June 23rd, 2011
7:52 pm

In a perfect world all teachers would be teaching because they love teaching all children. This isn’t a perfect world. There are many that are teaching for the benefits and reasons other than the for the love of profession. There are teachers that are not interested in teaching lower income students and some that are not interested in teaching any minority children. The same goes with school leaders. It is very naive to think that racism doesn’t exist in the public schools. It is especially a major problem for districts that have changed demographics almost over night, but years ago hired teachers were not ever interested in teaching minorities, regardless of the children’s economic status. Unfortunately, these teachers may sit in the disticts for another decade or so. Ultimately, the innocent children will suffer because this “type” of teacher has lower expectations for the child and often will utilize unfair practices. Ask African American parents this question and I am sure they will think the answer is obvious because most have had experience with a racist teacher. School disticts need to only hire and retain leaders and teachers that are obviously passionate in teaching ALL children. This is 2011, but you can find school leaders, school teachers and others that have a 1900’s mindset.

cherokee teacher

June 23rd, 2011
7:57 pm

I had a choice several years ago to teach in either a WASP upper middle class school with 1% free and reduced lunch or a full title one school with lots of diversity. I choose the latter and LOVE IT.
NO DRAMA from the “tennis moms” or “commuter dads” instead I am at a school that expects the best from its kids regardless of race or social status. AND we have parents who know education is the key to improving their situations. I LOVE the diversity and only see Kids as Kids.
BTW our test scores compare within one or two % points every year from that “other school.”
Now no school is perfect but it is the place for me and my colleagues.
We demand excellence from everyone in the community and if this is the atmosphere created, expected and fostered then diversity only enhances the school IMHO.


June 23rd, 2011
8:00 pm

Have you ever wondered why private schools have some many White teachers? Somebody explained it to in terms that couldn’t be misunderstood.

White parents of White privlege children want the best teachers, and they know that Whites are far better teachers than your typical Affirmative Action Fort Valley State edumacator. White teachers want to invest their time, talent, and skills into students who are the brightest and most advantaged so that more can be done with each lesson. Teachers want to see their students excel, and White teachers know that blacks can only go so far, but Whites can go so much further with the same lesson.

Inspite of what the SPLC calls pseudo science, the proven facts are that Whites have higher IQs than blacks and thus can benefit from education more than blacks can.

Look at Atlanta’s Jewish schools. 100% Whites Only students and teachers. They don’t want Diversity coming in wasting their time and money. They want excellence and achievement, and they can’t get that with black teachers or students. Best of all, Jews can’t be called racists, so they get away with it, and nobody complains. Ever seen a NAACP protest in front of a Jew school?


June 23rd, 2011
8:02 pm

Every year, I tell my students that we are all mixed. It’s just a matter of how you define your mixture. Mine is Norwegian – German – Irish, yours may be Ghanian – Jamaican, or pure Hmong, or Brazilian-Japanese or Texan-West Virginian. This point was driven home to me by a teaching colleague who did not wish to be labelled “African – American.” She was “Cuban – Canadian,” thank you very much. Not African or American. My school is very diverse; in the last few years my classroom has had students from Mexico, Ghana, Puerto Rico, Albania, Bosnia, India, Pakistan, Taiwan, Nigeria, Russia, Honduras, Eritrea, Thailand and I don’t know what other countries, as well as kids who’ve rarely been out of Georgia. If they qualify to be in my honors/gifted classes (and we make every effort to include students of all ethnicities and SES backgrounds, in a Title I school with about 65% free/reduced lunch), I’ll teach them. And nearly all of them score Level 3 on their math CRCT.

Dr. Heem

June 23rd, 2011
8:04 pm

I’m deeply disturbed by the blatant and hateful racist rhetoric in some of these comments, but for the life of me, I can’t argue against their facts. All I can do is complain that they are using their Free Speech to say what I don’t want said, so I’ll call them racist and hope they go away. I’ll look good, anyway, because while I call them a racist, it makes me look like I embrace and welcome enriching Diversity, which always comes at too high a cost than it’s worth.

Just a teacher

June 23rd, 2011
8:08 pm

As usual, the haters are in full force. Don’t underestimate teachers. The vast majority of us teach because we love the idea of helping children learn to the best of their ability. I will agree that staff development would be far more worthwhile with training to help ALL teachers understand the impact of poverty and immigration on those students.


June 23rd, 2011
8:10 pm

if memory serves correct I believe i saw or read about in 2050 the racial makeup of the US would be along the lines of 38% hispanic; 33% white; 20 black; then the break down of Asian; native american etc….

Jerry Eads

June 23rd, 2011
8:13 pm

For what it’s worth, at least all the data analysis I did is public information.
THIS last fall, 44.4% of all public education students statewide were white. African-American students constituted 37%, Hispanics 11.9%, Asians 3.4% and those who were identified as “multiracial” constituted 3%.

At the turn of the century (fall 1999 count) those percentages were 54.6%, 38%, 4%, 2.1% and 1.2%. Part of the ‘wiggle’ between African-American and multiracial is both social and in how the data are now collected. The DIFFERENCE in the schools is that whites have literally left – the white enrollment count is actually smaller; whites have been replaced by Hispanics and to a smaller extent by Asians. As enrollment has grown about a quarter million students in that time, African-American enrollment has of course increased to hold the same percentage.

Just fyi, I include public preschool in the counts. In case you’re curious, Hispanics and Asians seem to tend not to send their kids to at least public Pre-k.

All that being said just for reference, the research DOES suggest that the white middle class from whom the majority of teachers are currently drawn, without experience or training, does have a tough time with the differences in behavior that are both a function of culture as well as the vagaries of low-income households. HOWEVER, those unfamiliarities seem to be able to be overcome, as noted by the dedicated folks above.

The demographic changes didn’t happen overnight, folks. It’s not like somebody flipped a switch. Human beings have this amazing capacity to adapt. Anticipating another question, the percent of teachers who are “minority” has increased from 21.3% to 26.7% in the above time period.


June 23rd, 2011
8:16 pm

Are you worried about non-white teachers teaching white students?


June 23rd, 2011
8:21 pm

The racism on this board and many other boards should answer the question.

Dr. Monica Henson

June 23rd, 2011
8:28 pm

@Keeping It Real, who posted:

“In a perfect world all teachers would be teaching because they love teaching all children. This isn’t a perfect world. There are many that are teaching for the benefits and reasons other than the for the love of profession. There are teachers that are not interested in teaching lower income students and some that are not interested in teaching any minority children. The same goes with school leaders. It is very naive to think that racism doesn’t exist in the public schools.”

It saddens me to have to agree. The plain and simple truth is that many teachers go into teaching for reasons that have far more to do with adult comfort than with educating students. Part of the reason why so many teachers complain about their jobs is because their expectations of having classrooms filled with happy, well-fed, well-prepared, compliant children who resemble the teacher and his/her family in race and socioeconomic class are not met in this day and age.


June 23rd, 2011
8:34 pm

Teaching or attending an all white school does not eliminate problems, it is just a different set of problems. Good teachers will adjust to the situation they are in and rise above it.

I am ashamed to say, however, that some people probably do feel this way–there are always some who will–and not just in the teaching profession. Bad apples are everywhere.


June 23rd, 2011
8:37 pm

Racism is the effect of a cause, not the cause of an effect. Racism is a learned response. If blacks acted like Japanese, Whites wouldn’t be racists. It’s not Whites’ fault that blacks are prone to crime.

White racism is surging because after all they’ve done for blacks, from emancipation, citizenship for free, votes, integration, civil rights, affirmative action, black history month, black congressional congress, diversity is our strength, etc, blacks still commit violent crimes against Whites at dramatically higher rates than Whites against blacks.

Whites are waking up to the impossibility of blacks- whatever you do for them, it’s never enough, and they demand more and never improve as a race. Those few blacks who don’t cause problems are just “acting White”. What “typical” black doesn’t have a criminal record? That’s not the fault of Whites, unless you blame us for not helping the blacks get back home to Africa in 1865.

A White girl said, “I wasn’t a racist until I started working here.” Everybody, black and White, knows what she meant. Why do blacks move into White neighborhoods at the first chance, and why do the Whites start moving out? Nature can’t be mocked by race mixing.


June 23rd, 2011
8:39 pm

There are excellent teachers from a variety of schools across the nation. There are also terrible teachers from these same schools- both black and white- I have seen both- . What I do see and must comment on is the overemphasis on “programs” in many of our black schools with a de-emphasis on teaching/ planning/ and learning. The best way to help any unperforming student- either black or white- is to hold them accountable for performing at their highest intellectual levels. It is not a crime and punishment to hold students to rigorous standards- both black and white- rich and poor. I have seen underperforming students rewarded for non performance and non adherance to general rules. We do children a disservice when we make excuses for them not improving. Somewhere a line has to be drawn. There is nothing new under the sun and urban children were educated well in previous decades with less resources. It is time to stop playing PR games with parents and enforce laws that are already on the books.


June 23rd, 2011
8:42 pm

Would it be rude to suggest that “non-whites” adapt to and support the typical American system of learning? It has worked pretty well for those willing to “adapt.”


June 23rd, 2011
8:44 pm

@Dr. Henson: I certainly agree with you, but there is nothing which prohibits teaching students how they are to conduct themselves in a classroom. It does not necessarily mean that the teacher is unable to manage the students. The definition for a good teacher changes depending on the school and its organizational culture. Teachers cannot achieve these Herculean tasks in isolation, it does require committed administrators also who help to set the tone for learning in the building and act to enforce it.


June 23rd, 2011
8:46 pm

It is sad that when a teacher seeks administrative support- as I have seen- they are basically counseled out of a job by a principal too busy to move from behind their desk and manage their school. There is toooo much of this happening already.


June 23rd, 2011
8:50 pm

There is way too much managing of teachers (adults) and not enough management of students. It is a duty and responsibility that many administrators intentionally overlook.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

June 23rd, 2011
8:57 pm

“Can teachers and schools adapt to rise in non white students?”

Maureen, OF COURSE teachers and schools and adapt to the rise in non-white students contrary to what some of the usual attention-seeking race-baiting crazies on this and many other AJC blogs would have you believe (There, you got your moment of recognition. Are you happy? Now you can go back to making your hands numb while cowering in your parents’ basement).

Anyways, I agree with many of the SANE posters here that issue isn’t whether teachers can adapt to the rise in non-white students, but rather teachers who may hail from stable middle-class backgrounds can adapt to dealing with a rise in students who come from unstable disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.


June 23rd, 2011
9:09 pm

Students need to be responsible and act accordingly while attending the classroom period. If their parents don’t teach them how to behave than maybe they shouldn’t have Children. The teachers spend too much time trying to baby set these “bad apples” in the classroom. And Teachers are forced to learn all of this tolerance crap instead of real subjects to teach the Students. No Hillary it doesn’t take a village it takes real Parents and real Teachers with real morals. The Federal Government, ACLU, GLADD, Southern Poverty Law Center, and other Liberal organizations are destroying public education and sociality.

Top School

June 23rd, 2011
9:11 pm

I think this has become a racial issue. In the past on this blog….comments have been made about the issues having nothing to do with RACE…

Now this is all about RACE…

Yes, THEY’VE KEPT THIS PROBLEM HANDLED IN BUCKHEAD FOR SOME TIME NOW. ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS has been running an underground railroad to the WHITE schools for their connected BLACK FOLK for many years now.

It is all about RACE…and if you don’t think so…Enroll your minority child in a northside APS School and watch what happens. The minority child better come with some accolades a connected family or the ability to keep up academically. Struggling minority children will need parents that have an influence or they will not be afforded the same opportunities. Struggling children are not allowed.


June 23rd, 2011
9:14 pm

I truly enjoyed reading the eye opening comments. Here’s my take. I am Black and grew up in a working class family. My first five years as a teacher was in a wonderful multi-cultural setting. I taught students from five out of the seven continents. My sixth year teaching was in the inner city and I went into cultural shock. It was a day and night experience. Bottom line…I had to learn how to work with inner city children. Now I am a darn good teaching, but it took a minute. Yes, racism and class is part of the problem. To say it is not…shame on you.

I realized there was a problem and set out to make changes. I started a business promoting literacy and parental involvement called Read To Me America. I just recently produced a CD called “Teach Me How To Read…So I Can Succeed. You can purchase it at

One mind at a time

June 23rd, 2011
9:17 pm

Those who are willing to be taught, and want to learn, will, and those who don’t, won’t. It doesn’t matter what color they or their teachers are. My children had good and bad teachers when they were growing up. My major complaint about their black teachers was their use of language…kind of hard to teach correct English when you speak Ebonics. Didn’t have that problem with their white teachers. I have two grandsons and they both excell in school, and have been recognized for their achievements. They are in the minority in their schools, but thank heavens, their schools, and their teachers and support staff, all expect the best from the children. Of course they are in a good neighborhood, and most of the parents are supportive as well. And it is true that good parenting does equate to better leaning by their children. There are always exceptions, and this has always been true, also. The fact remains that many children come from homes where education is not valuied, and they live and learn what they see. The boys want to be thugs and get easy money, and the girls see welfare as a way of life. You can’t change that…you just have to be willing to help those who can be reached, in spite of their backgrounds. Obviously many teachers bring their own prejudices to their classrooms, and some of them just don’t care either. And let us not forget, the deliberate dumbing down of education began a long, long time ago. Sad that so many are just now beginning to see it. And it is a bit late to cry about it now.

Concerned Parent

June 23rd, 2011
9:40 pm

Can teachers and schools adapt to the rise of non-white students? Let us get real; we live in a diversified US from the beginning of time. All children are required receive an education to produce productive citizens. No race or culture of children is better or harder than the next The US will never move forward, if we continue to allow people who think negative. Are we counting people for the census for the right reasons? Stop using our numbers to create negative thoughts or actions. AJC should ask would this question , will the information and questions they create build a positive result. We should ask our superintendents, administrators, and teachers to adapt to change as it comes with open minds and open hearts. We were created different for many reasons. It would be kind of boring to live with just one race, one language, and one way of thinking.


June 23rd, 2011
9:51 pm

More Asians please. They do wonder for our test scores.


June 23rd, 2011
9:52 pm

@One mind at a time: while you may not have had a problem with the english spoken by white teachers of your children- I certainly have a problem with yours- just the facts…

Concerned Parent

June 23rd, 2011
9:55 pm

One day, the children from the well-financed schools could for a week go to schools in the urban areas anonymously. The parents will see the difference on how different areas teach the standards. The experience will be an eye opener. Almost all parent care about the education of their children. The standard of teaching become different baised on the economics. When we have equal education among all, we will receive better results.

Wow this is heated.

June 23rd, 2011
10:03 pm

It seems to me the urban public schools have been teaching majority minority populations for quite a while. But they are really not doing a great job.

Concerned Parent

June 23rd, 2011
10:06 pm


In the 1950, Jim Crow and rasism did not allow segregation. You cannot compare the times. Many schools were created just to keep the status quo and it is still happening today, but now we have civil rights, good jobs, and a voice.

Coach in Cobb

June 23rd, 2011
10:06 pm

Please, I went to an all white parochial school in another southern state and I can relate to my minority students just as well if not better than my white students. It’s all about your attitude. And yes, I teach at a school that is 45-45-10.