Black students who have just one black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate high school and attend college. Yet, the chances of a black student—or any student of color—having a teacher who looks like them are unacceptably slim. For high school principal Cory Cain, these numbers aren’t just a statistic, they were his reality. As a young black man growing up in Florida, Cory didn’t have a black teacher until his junior year of college. Now, as a principal, that experience is never far from his mind. He’s constantly thinking of new ways to recruit more people of color into education to ensure that his students benefit from a diverse faculty. During National Principals Month, Cory reflects on the key role principals can play in diversifying the teaching profession.

A whopping 40 percent of public schools in our country do not have a single teacher of color on staff, and in 17 states, more than 95 percent of teachers are white, according to a recent study. It’s not surprising that while 50 percent of American students are people of color, only 20 percent of their teachers are.

But why does this disparity exist? There are many complex reasons, but one stands out for Cory. “It’s a vicious cycle,” Cory explains. “Too many students are receiving an education that fails to expose them to teachers of color who can serve as positive role models. This means the pool is smaller because few students of color see teaching as a viable career, so the cycle continues.”

It was having a role model who looked like him that changed the course of Cory’s life. While in high school, he met the marketing manager for the Miami Heat. “I saw he could do it, and I knew I could too. So I did,” said Cory. After graduating from college, Cory went to work in marketing for Nike and later for the Miami Heat, just like his mentor. “I saw someone who looked like me in a position of authority and that enabled me to see myself in that position,” says Cory. “I want my students to have the same experience.”

His high school primarily serves young men of color in inner-city Chicago, so Cory works hard to ensure his students can see themselves reflected in the school’s faculty and administration. “It’s a pretty simple equation,” Cory describes. “Putting educators of color in front of students of color results in more teachers of color.”

Driven to expand his impact, Cory’s school became a founding member of the Black Male Educators Alliance, a group dedicated to increasing the number of effective black male educators in order to improve the educational experiences for urban children. “One of the very practical ways our group works to achieve this mission is by inviting students to see us in action, learn how we got here, and understand how we can be personally and financially successful in this profession,” says Cory

Cory is also a member of Educators for Excellence (E4E), a nationwide movement of educators who work to ensure that teachers have a leading voice in creating policies that impact their students and their profession. Cory and other members of the organization are engaged in both national and local campaigns around teacher diversity. Working with educators across the country, E4E has launched a national campaign called Reimagine, Represent: Strengthening Education Through Diversity, calling on leaders at every level to strengthen the pipeline of diverse educators.

Increasing diversity in the teaching profession will not be easy. “To be sure, there are numerous and complex challenges that stand in our path,” said Cory. “But this is a fight we must not shrink from because our students deserve better than these unacceptable statistics. Principals have a significant role to play as hiring managers, instructional coaches, mentors, and role models, as well as advocates for the profession.”

To sign on to E4E’s Call to Action on teacher diversity and find out how you can get involved, visit their campaign website.

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