by Stanley G. Buford
"Of all the teachers in the U.S., only 2 percent are Black and male. That news is bad enough. But it gets worse: Many of these men are leaving the profession. A that the number of Black teachers in the public schools of nine cities dropped between 2002 and 2012. In Washington, D.C., Black teachers' share of the workforce dropped from 77 percent to 49 percent." – Elissa Nardworny
Think back to your K-12 educational experience…Now answer this: How many of your teachers were African American male? If you had to think about it too long you probably had few; if any. That’s because less than 2% of American teachers are Black males according to the U S Department of Education.
It is not unusual to see a group of smartly dressed, articulate African-American male professors walking across the campus of Morehouse College the only all-male historically Black college in the country - the school attended by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One would think, “Look how far we have come.” Still, faced with the startling fact that Black males represent six percent of the U.S. population, 45 percent of the prison population, and less than two percent of teachers, one cannot help but think, “How far have we yet to go?”
So many cases abound where young African-American boys want to be rappers, athletes, or entertainers, typically because that is what they are exposed to through television and social media.
Study after study has proven that if more Black male teachers were in our Nation’s classrooms, it would dramatically alter children’s aspirations and quite possibly, address the abhorrent connections to crime and disruptive behavior.
According to recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 82 percent of public school teachers in school year 2011-2012 were Caucasian.
When African-American men first enter the classroom, there is a high likelihood that they may be only one of two or three black males on the staff, even in some predominantly Black school districts. On a personal note; as a teacher by day and entrepreneur by night, this writer knows all too well the disadvantages of “teaching while Black.”
Number one, the pay, which is not commensurate with most other professions requiring a degree. Two, the disrespect from a small sediment of colleagues and administrators that see Black male teachers as part of the problem because they’re male (believe it or not).
I can well remember as a new teacher starting out as a day-to-day sub; being told that I could not fulfill a position in a kindergarten classroom because it required principal approval. There seems to be an unwritten code among some well meaning, yet, misguided school personnel that says Black men need not apply!
When a school makes hiring decisions, they largely depend on “fit.” Will this person fit in at our school, and how well? Adding an African-American man to the staff will automatically change a school’s dynamics.
Parents, students, and fellow teachers may watch the Black male employee more closely because of the rarity of the situation. The educator, as well as the school community, must be prepared for this. It takes a certain amount of character to accept and live up to this reality and the expectations that come with diversity.
It is of great importance that African-American students see caring, responsible, and honest Black men in positions of authority, because it helps them to recognize what is possible. Unfortunately, not enough of these positive images are visible to today’s youth.
The need for Black male teachers is the greatest in elementary and middle schools; for the most part grades 3, 4, and 5, as noted by Black psychologist and author; Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu writer of 38 books specific to the Black experience, including: Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys.
A deficiency of Black males in the classroom obviously leads directly to a lack of them in school leadership roles, such as principal and assistant principal. Educators have long said that mentoring is a key to success for many new teachers. In fact, many districts have mandatory orientation/mentoring programs for new teachers.
Part of the teacher mentoring experience, specific to Black males, needs to be revisited across urban America including the pairing of new teachers with an administrator or teacher who will observe, discuss research, and share experiences in an effort to promote the novice’s growth as an education professional.
The expectation is that new educators will have mentors who have their best interests and professional growth at heart. It is a challenge for Black men to find someone in their school willing to level with them and be honest about the great responsibility that comes not only with being an educator, but a black male educator at that.
This writer’s latest literary work is titled: Role Model by Default: Teaching At-Risk Kids in Urban America. It’s the story of a young Black man who decides to become a teacher; in spite of the odds and the horror stories that follow his decision.
While the book is fictional; the reality is that we, as a nation, must become better acquainted with the idea of providing Black males with teachers that look like them.
Every single conversation about education today must begin with the need to increase diversity in the teaching force. A conversation about standards, teacher quality, or graduation rates cannot begin without a vigorous effort and commitment to this cause.
Poor achievement among our neediest students is the result, at least in part, of a lack of strong, positive black educators in our classrooms. The United States needs to move swiftly to engage more African-American men in teaching.
No longer can we simply be “okay” with Black men representing less than two percent of our teacher workforce. It is simply unethical and unacceptable in this day and age.