The recent news reports about the lack of African American teachers has caused concern that men are not choosing the profession of education. As an African American teacher at an elementary school and third generation educator. I find that effectively teaching African American youth does not rest in having more African American male teachers present in the classroom as teachers and administrators, male teachers must have a passion to teach. Those men that accept the responsibility to embark on a career that requires creativity, patience, civic responsibility, morals, ethics and value of education. Reading “The Education of the Negro” (Carter G. Woodson) those of African American heritage that could read and write were missionary teacher among their people.
National and Local Data
Nationally in many school districts, there are no minority teachers in schools. In Seattle, Washington; “At most of the schools, there are no minority teachers at all. There’s maybe a minority custodian.” Black teachers are hard to Find, March 15, 2002. Nationally, about 7 percent of the teaching force is African American, compared with 40 percent of the student body, according to the National Education Association and the National Center for Education Statistics. In my personal experience teaching I have been the only African American male teacher in a couple of the elementary schools I have taught in.
The educational system of many states especially Florida are struggling with acquiring and keeping African American male teachers. Respectively in the DCPS system there are about 8500 teachers, only about 323 are African American males (Florida Times Union 2010). There can be a discussion centered on many things about education with a student population in the order of 134,000. The population of African American youths at around 42%. There is definitely a need for positive male role models of men who will not only teach young men how to be responsible adult men, but teach them to value education as a means to success in life. There is more to creating success in African American youth than just a male face.
Modeling and Mentoring
It goes beyond modeling and mentoring, direct interaction and dialogue is needed. You cannot tell African American males or other males to stay in school and get a good education there must be value added and examples that they can see, interact and relate too. I have learned this while teaching in Putnam County, Edward Waters College and Florida State College as an Adjunct Professor in the education department. “If a Black child during the course of his school years has only one or two Black teachers out of say 40, you can imagine the message that child gets about academic achievement,” The Disappearing Black Teacher, 13 Jan, 2010.
Identifying with Non-educators
The reasons why our youth identify with athletes, rappers, musicians, and others in the entertainment, sports and music industry is because they are portrayed in the media with the same talents that our youth wish to have and some do have. The media projects these images in commercials, sports drinks, music videos, cereal boxes, and on television award shows.
They show the material “STUFF” these entertainers have. Parents sometimes contribute to their children’s academic demise by telling their children that the way out of socioeconomic challenges is through sports, music, dance, pole swinging, club dancing, rapping, tricking, baby making (welfare), but where is the importance of education?
I say this from experience talking with students and parents. The parent’s expectations are from their current existence and life experiences. African American male presence in the classroom has some effect, but if that child or children does not respect the teacher no matter the race, creed or color teaching will be challenging. The effect of role models and mentors is immeasurable. Raphael Moffett, a student teacher at Garfield High in Seattle, stated what teachers have always known, “All students need a role model” no matter what grade level.
Parents as Role Models and Teachers
The known facts are parents should be teaching their children first. A parent is the child’s first teacher, and should be their first positive role model. Many parents are working multiple jobs to keep food in the home, utilities on, clothes to wear. This creates a void where teaching and modeling are not being provided because of the necessity to provide for the family.
Challenging influences such as poverty, divorce, the death of a father or a father being deployed in military service for extended rotations causes rifts in directions and choices that should be directed at raising children especially young men. This develops a serious fissure in the development of young males both black, white and other nationalities.
Caucasian Women as Models
African American women outnumber African American male teacher’s,and Caucasian women outnumber African American teachers altogether. The impact is seen in yearly disciplinary charts, suspension records, attendance records, AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) and graduation rates. This does not mean that Caucasian women cannot teach minority students, at my school alone Caucasian women have been very successful and are very dedicated and excellent, as well as the African American women teachers and two African American males including myself. Teachers are faced with verbal, physical, psychological and emotional violent behavior and discipline challenges which they overcome on a weekly basis. This hostility or projected harassment comes from parents not just the students. There are disconnects by students and parents, especially in dealing with classroom discipline. Parents are too quick to accuse both African American and Caucasian teachers of racism, bias and prejudice. Parents need to lend their support to teachers more and trust in the teacher’s ability to teach their children valuable life skills.
Racial Diversity Benefits
The benefits of a racially diverse teaching force are clear, said Segun Eubanks, a teacher recruitment specialist for the National Education Association and Executive Director of the Washington, D.C. based Community Teachers Institute. “The data displays that teachers of color are less likely to expel and suspend students of color, less likely to assign them to (academic) lower tracks or tracks too challenging and special education courses.” It takes more than the presence of African American male teachers to lower the numbers of academic failure. The involvement of African American male teachers that are trained and experienced helps to defuse and redirect behavior problems. Effective and relevant professional development is needed.
Young males many times need a mature person that they can trust, respect, and “straight” with them. They do not need someone that is “green” trying to connect with or be “down” with them. A teacher should not show they know it all, but are willing to learn from their students to understand their talents, dreams and goals. At Raines and Ribault High Schools respectively the administration is working to connect with students not just at school, but in some cases providing support at home, providing a “Full Service” approach to families. “It would be helpful to have more African American teachers who understand the culture of the African American child, as well as (to be) a wonderful role model, to compensate and balance the classrooms they do get into where they don’t have those role models and they’re not treated with respect.” Phyllis Beaumonte, Head of the education committee of the Seattle NAACP.
Programs To Support Young Teachers
Young males desire to establish a connection with another male that is mature, respectful and responsible to learn from and model behavior. The availability in many classrooms is not there. Programs abound for males to enter into education, but creating the excitement about a career in education is a challenge; programs such as “Call Me Mister” (South Carolina State Univ. Clemson Univ.), Future Teachers of Color at Washington State University, Teach For America, JABSE (Jacksonville Alliance of Black School Educators), “A Teacher Like Me” (through JABSE & DCPS), and NABSE (National Alliance of Black School Educators) and the successful “Accuse Yourself of Success” by Anthony Butler, Sr. of E3 Business Group. Highlight education as a career for minority students. To give back to their communities in a positive and effective way.
There will always be a need for quality teachers with the changing academic requirements, national and local standards, and diversity in the world economy. Programs locally exist at UNF, Florida State College of Jacksonville, and Teach for America. Traditionally Edward Waters College has graduated many dedicated and capable teachers. I have worked with many teachers that have graduated from EWC and having taught there for many years, these new professionals are highly skilled and motivated to make a difference. Just as within any educational institution there are challenges, no one school or program is better at preparing students. In the final analysis it is up to the student teacher to determine how best to apply what they have learned in the college classroom to implement learned strategies and methodologies to teaching.
I have been blessed by teaching many students at various schools. The challenge and success is to make a connection with students. To show them the values and importance of life long learning. Minority students need to see a familiar face in the classroom, but also see that face in public outside the school. They need to see that person involved in the community, working in the neighborhoods, shopping and speaking with parents. In the 21st century there are many challenges for minority students, so male teachers must take responsibility for improving their communities daily by staying involved, connected and integrated in the community they teach in. When embarking in a career in education there is already the understanding that we as professional educators may not make a great deal of money, but money is not the objective.
Making an impact in a child’s life, helping families growth and community development is payment. Money cannot buy a students desire to go to college, vocational school or change in discipline because you as a teacher had a positive effect in their growth and development..
Many times teachers do not see the fruits of their labors until later in life. I have personally had students that I taught in elementary school in the 90’s and early 2000 thank me for encouraging, motivating, caring, and importantly teaching them. More men of all races, creeds and nationalities should take the step to be educators, but must have the passion to stay the course, and understand that they are few, but with courage, prayer and determination they can and do make a difference in children’s lives.