Anthony Felder walked into his freshman year at LSU with aspirations of becoming a pediatric physical therapist. But during that year, Felder had an epiphany.
“I realized the only reason I wanted to be a pediatric physical therapist was because I wanted to teach kids how to use their limbs again,” Felder said.
The opportunity to learn how to become an educator came later during his freshman year.
“I was struggling in an entry-level chemistry class, and I said that I would never take another chemistry class,” Felder said. “I switched my major to mathematics once I found out about LSU’s concentration rule.”
The chance to become an educator for the youth has a deeper meaning and motivation to Felder, though.
“I want to be an advocate for youth, especially youth of color,” Felder said. “I think it is important that not only every voice is heard, but also every opinion is considered. I think that education plays an enormous role in the development of that voice.”
Felder, a Black student at the University, believes his success is important to inspiring more Black male youths to become educators.
“It is very important for young Black men to have an accessible role model,” Felder said. “It can’t just be people they see on television and read about in books, but someone who they can learn from through continued conversations and interactions.”
Felder, now a junior, has only had two teachers and professors in his lifetime be Black men.
Felder’s case is extremely common throughout the United States.
Black men represent less than 2% of the entire teacher workforce, according to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The numbers are more alarming in Louisiana.
The state had 47,300 public school teachers in 2018, according to a study by the Louisiana Department of Education. The study also found that of that 47,300 public school teachers, 2,419 were Black men.
That’s about 5% of the teacher population in a state that has the second-highest Black population percentage — 32%, according to LSU Dean of the College of Human Sciences and Education Roland Mitchell.
The numbers drop even more in Baton Rouge. Despite the city population being majority Black, less than 1% of teachers in Baton Rouge are Black men, according to the Schott Foundation for Public Education.
The origins of this issue have many factors. The most common is the lack of retention for Black male students, which then leads to the lack of Black men as teachers.
There are educators and students who believe having a Black male teacher is highly important for the success of Black men in general.
“Black male students benefit immensely from having an educator that looks like them,” Felder said. “I think commonality can be the first step of an effective personal relationship inside the classroom; relationships that have been proven to assist in educational performance.”
LSU professor of sociology and African and African American studies Lori Martin is a promoter of diversifying the education field with more Black men.
“Students, faculty, staff and administrators at LSU would benefit from more Black male educators who understand the African American experience within the context of a broader ongoing liberation struggle,” Martin said.
To Martin, an increase in Black male educators would help groom Black male students from a variety of backgrounds.
“Black male educators often wed their academic training with their observations and experiences at the intersections of their race, gender, class, religion, and sexuality in ways that provide an important and critical lens for understanding American society,” Martin said.
Martin has a potential solution for the issue.
“Targeted recruitment of Black male students majoring in education is possible and should be a priority,” Martin said. “It should start well before the college admissions process. There must also be a focus on retention.”
However, Martin and Felder understand there are challenges that stand in the way.
“The integration of schools led to the closure of Black schools and a loss of Black educators, including Black male teachers who were not hired at integrated schools,” Martin said. “Some even left the profession altogether.”
Martin views education as a branch in a tree of problems Black men face.
“Black men are relatively disadvantaged throughout the labor market,” Martin said. “They also have greater challenges in schools.
The academy and K-12 schools tend to reproduce themselves in the hiring and promotion process.”
Race is a strong factor in Martin’s eyes. “Black men are not always seen as a ‘good fit’ for positions in the academy or narrowly defined roles in elementary and secondary education,” Martin said.
The classroom environment is a challenge for Felder.
“I think the most difficult challenge I have faced in my experience thus far is just relating to the white students,” Felder said.
LSU had a student body population slightly under 32,000 students during the fall 2019 semester, according to LSU’s budget and planning division. About 21,000 of those students are white, making up about 66% of the school’s student population.
Many Black students at predominantly white institutions, including LSU, find the abundance of white students to be discomforting, leading to a struggle in retention.
A study from College Student Affairs Leadership found five main components that lead to a struggle to retain Black students at predominantly white institutions: institutional historical legacy of inclusion or exclusion, compositional diversity, psychological climate, behavioral climate and structural diversity.
The composition of the classroom both in terms of the students and the educators matter. The lack of diversity in a classroom can give Black students, especially Black male students, an increased presence.
“I am very much aware that being a Black man makes me hyper-visible in a space where historically there have been very few Black men,” Mitchell said.
Being an educator in as high of a position such as the dean of the College of Human Sciences and Education makes Mitchell believe he is in a great spot to motivate future generations of Black male students.
“The value of being a part of a rich community of Black folks in and outside of college settings provides a deep reservoir of support and resources to move past these rare and unfortunate instances,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell also values his time as a program leader in the Higher Education Administration program.
“I did not do anything specifically geared toward recruiting Black men any differently than I would have for recruitment in general,” Mitchell said. “The key to recruitment is having faculty who are open to building meaningful pedagogical relationships with students.
Once that occurs, and your students arrive on the national stage in key positions, they share with other students the positive interactions that they had under your tutelage,” Mitchell said.
The Louisiana Department of Education has acknowledged the lack of Black-male educators.
“It is important to have a teaching workforce that mirrors the diversity of students,” Sydni Dunn, the spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Education, said. “The Louisiana Department of Education takes this seriously and has engaged in a number of activities to ensure this is possible.”
Dunn said there are some initiatives the state Department of Education is planning to improve diversity among Louisiana educators.
“Louisiana launched the ‘Be a Teacher LA’ campaign to recruit new teachers into the field and to elevate the profession,” Dunn said. “Louisiana adopted a new ‘Jump Start’ pre-educator training pathway to equip high-school students — college and career bound — with the knowledge and skills needed to find success upon graduation in the education profession.”
Louisiana Department of Education officials attended a national consortium in March 2018 that focused on how to diversify the education workforce and support future and current educators in effectively teaching students of different cultural backgrounds.
Dunn emphasized the importance that diversifying the students and teaching workforce holds.
“This is true in Louisiana and across the nation,” Dunn said.