It would seem obvious that having a teacher one can identify with is an advantage. Teachers serve as inspirations, and are among the most influential people one encounters in life. If you can identify with a teacher, it makes a difference.
Yet for many students this experience is either limited or not available because of a continuing lack of diversity — and improving the situation has been challenging. As the number of students of color rises, the same cannot be said of the teaching demographic. In Meriden, for example, about 9% of educators are those of color, while about 80% of the city’s students are people of color.
Countering this imbalance has been challenging, but the effort is worth it. Teachers are role models students spend time with nearly every day.
In Meriden, Orlando Valentin Jr. wants to build on efforts that have been making progress. He’s part of the school district’s affinity group, which has as a goal of recruiting and retaining educators of color. A former fourth-grade teacher at Casimir Pulaski School, Valentin is now assistant principal at Hanover Elementary. As an administrator, he now has greater opportunity to take action. “In this position I can have a say in the hiring process of educators,” he said.
Valentin’s desire to enhance the diversity of the school district was recently featured in the Record-Journal, which noted that he and Hanover Principal Jennifer Kelley had recently hired a Latina paraprofessional, who is on hand in different classrooms throughout the day.
Valentin’s experience makes him a valuable role model. Proud of his Puerto Rican roots, he’s a product Meriden schools who has chosen to remain where he started. “Being an educator, we don’t go into this field for money but to make a difference,” he said. “So I wanted to come back to my hometown of Meriden, where I was born and raised, to start my career.”
The effort to increase the diversity of Meriden teachers is one worth supporting. It’s an advantage to have administrators who recognize the importance of that initiative. It’s a challenging task that will have rewards in the benefit to students.