As the country celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week, I’m grateful for the Black male educators in our low-income communities. They inspired me as a child and shaped my career path and they do the same for some many Milwaukee children. A recent study from Johns Hopkins University found the probability of a low-income Black male student dropping out of school is reduced by 39 percent if they have one Black teacher, and they are 29 percent more likely to consider college. I know this story well.
Mr. Eddie Jones, current assistant principal at Harold S. Vincent High School in Milwaukee, greatly influenced the course of my education and life. He was formerly a fifth grade teacher at my elementary school, Grantosa Drive Elementary School. Though Mr. Jones was never my teacher, he fostered a relationship with my family after teaching a few of my older siblings and he remains a part of our lives today. As maybe the only Black male teacher in the building, I looked up to him and he served as an early model of success and brilliance, demonstrating that a Black boy like myself could also go to college. Today, we need more teachers like Mr. Jones to do the same for the next generation of Black male students.
After graduating from Milwaukee Public Schools, I attended UW-Madison and earned a degree in English. While in school, I became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. – Gamma Epsilon Chapter and developed relationships with more Black male leaders who were devoted to service and education. I grew up in a family of educators, but never imagined I would become a teacher. I was sure I would strike out in a different direction, but I was inspired to join Teach For America in 2013 to invest in my community. The organization opened my eyes to the educational, economic and social disparities that continue to exist in our city, while equipping me with knowledge and resources to do something about it.
As it stands today, only 2 percent of teachers nationwide are Black males. To encourage more Black male leaders to enter the field, TFA and Alpha Phi Alpha formed an official partnership in 2013. As a part of the small but mighty group of Black male teachers in America’s public schools, I strive to imitate Mr. Jones for my students and our city. The young boys and girls I encounter remind me so much of myself in school. They are growing academically, but school also shapes their character and their future. School faculty and staff shape their perception of themselves and the opportunities available to them. In many school buildings, there are very few Black men in a position of leadership outside of a safety role. I want students to see every possibility. That they can be a school specialist, a safety officer, an administrator, a teacher or even a school leader.
I’ve heard from parents of my former students just how invaluable Black male teachers are for their Black students. Last year, several parents transferred their students to a new school for various reasons. This year, they returned to re-enroll their children for the upcoming school year for one critical reason–the opportunity for their child to benefit from the influence of Black male teachers who are less present in their new schools. Teachers from every background are effective, but the unadulterated and steadfast compassion that students receive from someone– even if it’s just one person–who has shared experiences is additionally powerful. If Black male leaders are more present in our classrooms and school buildings, we can positively reshape the consciousness of our young Black boys. These men and their respect and care for female students can also rewire the conversation of worth within our Black girls. Let’s continue to invest in our community and the children who will shape the future.
Bryson Kantrell Green is a Milwaukee native, third grade teacher, Teach For America–Milwaukee alum and member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. – Delta Chi Lambda Chapter. He was recently recognized as Teacher of the Year by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Alliance of Black School Educators (MMABSE).