Growing up in San Luis, Ariz., a town located near the Mexican border, Jorge Ontiveros never imagined he’d want to become a middle school teacher. His goal was to “follow the money” and become a lawyer or businessman, just like many young men his age had wanted to do. To his surprise, what was initially intended to be a short-term job as a high school football coach, quickly changed his perspective on the teaching profession.
Now in his fifth year of teaching sixth graders at Palomino Intermediate School in Phoenix, Ontiveros is just one of two Hispanic male teachers in his school. Across the country, just seven percent of teachers are Hispanic, and only two percent are males. For the last decade, Hispanic students have represented the largest minority group in our schools—one of every four students in the nation’s K-12 schools. With the Hispanic population projected to represent 60 percent of the population growth by 2050, the importance of recruiting teachers that reflect the diverse student body of our country is not only necessary but critical.
At a time when the high school graduation rate for Latino males is 60 percent and the college enrollment rate is 34 percent, having a teacher that reflects his or her student body may lead to better attendance, fewer suspensions and higher test scores. Ontiveros teaches in the same community he grew up in and he believes his Mexican, Spanish-speaking upbringing allows him to connect to his students and their parents. “Being able to relate and ultimately communicate with parents and students effectively is crucial to the success of the student, both inside and outside of my classroom.”
The U.S. Department of Education also believes in the importance of increasing the number of diverse and qualified teachers in the classroom. Last week, Secretary Duncan participated in the launch of a national teacher recruitment campaign to raise the nation’s awareness on the need to recruit the next generation of great teachers, particularly minority men. Providing students with a diverse representation of teachers who are role models in their communities will be a key component of this campaign’s success.
Ontiveros believes that young men don’t see enough male teachers to consider a career in teaching. “I want them to see a successful, young, male Hispanic teacher, so I wear a dress shirt and tie every day to show that I am proud of what I do,” Ontiveros said. He also asks his students to dress-up each Thursday for what he calls “Professional’s Day.” “Their job is to be good students,” he told us. “They show up to class and do their part, so I treat them professionally, calling them Miss or Mister.”
Ontiveros may have decided not to “follow the money” but being a role model and teaching and coaching students has fulfilled him in more meaningful ways. He talked about his day, his routine, and we listened and couldn’t help but notice the passion and commitment seeping through every word. Teaching clearly has become not only his career, but his life’s mission.Alejandra Ceja is the executive director for the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics