With the changing demographics of America’s student population, the teaching demographic in America’s schools must change with it. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, non-White teachers represent only 19% of the teaching workforce; Blacks make up 6.8% and Latinos only 7.8%. There is scholarship that articulates the critical need for more teachers of color in America’s classrooms. For example, a recent study examined the long-term impact of students taught by teachers of the same race. The study found that when a low-income Black student is taught by at least one Black teacher in elementary school, their chances for high school graduation significantly increases and for low-income Black males, the likelihood of them dropping out of school decreases.
There has been a recent push for urban and inner-city school districts to hire more Black teachers; in some locations, the push has been for more Black male teachers. In Philadelphia, The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice has a goal and a plan to facilitate the hiring of 1000 Black male teachers in the city by 2025. However once in the classroom, many Black teachers are confronted with challenges that lead to their burnout and departure from the profession. A 2016 report by the Education Trust revealed that Black teachers are frustrated that they are considered primarily to be disciplinarians of Black students and not strong classroom managers or content leaders. Black teachers are expected to “fix” what ails underperforming schools with high populations of Black students. They are expected to dispense “tough love” and tap cultural connections with their students to get them to (1) comply with the rules, (2) conform to Eurocentric norms of schooling, and (3) perform proficiently on standardized tests. However, it is not the job of Black teachers to “fix” the systemic racism found in the institution of the American public school. It is not up to Black teachers to counteract the inherit biases and racist anxieties of White educators that contribute to zero-tolerance policies, the criminalization of Black students, failure to hire more Black educators and continued misdiagnosing of Black students. To maintain this expectation of Black teachers is to continue the reality of their exodus from America’s classroom.
Much of the conversation on the need for Black teachers has focused on recruiting them. Equal focus must center on retaining them. To retain them, Black teachers must be supported. Supporting teachers is not exclusive to the work place. Supporting teachers includes preparing them for the challenges and opportunities they’ll approach on day one. Supporting teachers also means providing them with a network of peers and mentors that extend beyond where they teach. For prospective Black teachers, schools of education (SOEs) at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) do offer the support mechanisms to prevent their exodus of from the classroom. HBCUs support and prepare graduates for their professional and personal lives.[i] These institutions consistently strive to meet the needs of prospective Black educators; both undergrads and career changers. SOEs at HBCUs have met the challenges of revising their curricula and programs for the new millennium with initiatives that include advanced technology, innovative recruitment strategies, alternative routes to teaching, and national certification for experienced teachers of color.
For example, Howard University SOE responded to the challenge of producing highly qualified teachers of color by creating both a math, science and literacy rich bachelor’s degree program in elementary education and its Ready to Teach program for recent graduates and mid-career changers. For graduates of its SOE degree and alternate route programs, Howard University created the Community of Practice program; a virtual mentorship community, where graduates can remain connected with faculty to gain advice and manage the challenges they encounter in their first few years of teaching to prevent them from departing the profession. While PWIs do educate Black teacher candidates, they are not always best positioned to recruit, train and support Black teacher candidates. A strong body of research indicates that Black students at predominately White institutions (PWIs) experience alienation, adjustment issues, academic difficulty, and a lack of faculty relationships, while research also shows that HBCUs foster an environment that provides a positive experience for African Americans. SOEs at HBCUs may be one of many choices afforded to prospective Black teachers, however these Black institutions can offer a distinct and tailor-made program with the academic theory, applied practice and real-world supports to prevent them from leaving the teaching profession. In keeping with their historic mission, SOEs at HBCUs have a have a proven track record of producing new Black male educators. A 2013 study revealed that a greater percent of HBCU graduates were prepared for a teaching career and employed in a teaching field. The focus of the Black teacher conversation should be on how to position SOEs at HBCUs to the forefront of teacher education for a highly qualified and diverse workforce to meet the changing racial demographic needs of American public schools.
Rann Miller is director of the 21st Century Program; a federally funded after-school program for the Woodbury City Public Schools. He is a former classroom teacher of 6 years in charter schools located in Camden, New Jersey. He is the author of the Urban Education Mixtape Blog (http://urbanedmixtape.com). He can be followed on twitter at @UrbanEdDJ
[i] “A 2015 Gallop study revealed that Black graduates of HBCU’s are more likely than Black graduates of other institutions to be thriving – strong, consistent and progressing – in a number of areas of their lives, particularly in their financial and purpose well-being.” A 2017 Education Trust report revealed that HBCUs graduate more poor Black students than do predominately White institutions (PWIs).