This Is Why Representation Matters – Study Shows That Students Feel More Motivated By Minority Teachers
Christopher Futcher

According to a study done by New York University professors, students tend to prefer Black and Latino teachers to white ones.

The study surveyed middle school students and used data from a 2009-2010 survey funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with their own statistical analysis.

Study author Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, an assistant professor of international education at NYU, said he was surprised to find that students felt more challenged and supported by minority teachers.

Cherng admitted that he thought white teachers would receive higher marks based on the hierarchy of schools he’d taught in. 

“In the middle school I taught in and high schools I did summer stints in … students knew the racial hierarchy which existed within the school, which is largely the racial hierarchy that exists in the United States. Which implies they would have more respect, more something, for white teachers than nonwhite teachers.”

The study did not ask whether they respected their teachers, solely focusing on whether or not students felt cared for and motivated. Study authors have a few theories about why they believe students gave minority teachers higher marks, like teachers having a better understanding of what it’s like to be different, which helps them identify with and support students. 

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Cherng added, “If you’re a Black teacher, you understand you’re not in the mainstream and you know how to navigate the world essentially embodying an identity that is sometimes highly stigmatized. Kids are struggling with their own identities and how to come to terms with their own difference and development. I think these middle school teachers can use their own identities and experience to bridge that relationship with all types of students.”

Cherng used his own experience as a Chinese-American teacher in a predominantly Black school as an example of how this could be true, saying that as a person of color he found it easy to talk to the students about race and relate to them.

“I talked to them about growing up in a household with immigrant parents, and how when I would leave my household, my parents would always give me these messages of ‘You need to act right because this is not your world. You need to make sure you’re better than everyone else because you still wont get as far.’ When I said that to my students, they looked at me and were like: ‘Are your parents Black?’ I was laughing at them ― like, no, obviously they aren’t ― but it was the same message their parents gave them.”