Little Billy and Suzy attend kindergarten at the local elementary school. They don’t have very many male teachers around to give them a different perspective on the world, but at least they have Ms. Purpinski. In fact, little Suzy and Ms. Purpinski have something in common – they both have blonde hair and love to sing.
They get along fine.
Billy is a boy, but Ms. Purpinski encourages him to run around, play on the playground equipment, and when he falls down and hurts his knee, she cradles him in her arms and wipes away the tears.
Obviously, next to his mom, Ms. Purpinski is number one!
Little Billy and Suzy are lucky – they have a teacher who understands them, and cares about them a lot.
Little Antwan is also in Ms. Purpinski’s kindergarten class, but, except for his color, you’d hardly know it. Ms. Purpinski doesn’t treat Antwan too bad, after all he’s only a little kid, but she does tend to chastise him more for stuff that she doesn’t raise her voice about when little Billy and Suzy do the same thing.
Yes, Ms. Purpinski asks Little Antwan what he wants to do when he grows up, just like she does Little Billy, Suzy, and the rest of the class. But instead of encouraging him to be an attorney like his dad, Ms. Purpinski tries to convince Little Antwan that maybe he’s better suited doing something that “isn’t so hard.”
“No shame in giving up,” she tells him. “You can only do what you can only do.”
Funny – Little Billy wants to be a scientist, and Little Suzy wants to be a surgeon like her mom, but Ms. Purpinski didn’t try to talk them out of their youthful ambitions. In fact, their teacher has started calling them “Doctor” so they could both get used to that moniker at an early age.
Little Antwan? The teacher is still trying to convince him that his name is spelled wrong.
These three kids go through the grades and the years together – the same schools and the same classes, that is until Billy and Susan are assigned to special magnet studies programs – but by the time they all reach their third year in high school, Antwan, now in his teens, has had enough.
A lot is happening at home with his parents’ breakup. Money is tight and bad news after more bad news comes everyday. Antwan knows he needs his education, but school for him has been one big putdown, year after year after year. The young man wants to learn.
Problem is not only has not one of his teachers – all white – not really inspired him, but they never took the time to help him when he needed it, and more importantly, no one ever took the time to listen, except for the basketball coach in middle school, who was Black, but he didn’t stay very long.
As Antwan recalls, he overheard the coach on the phone with his wife saying something about not being paid enough or being treated right.
Billy and Susan, his longtime classmates, are now high school honor students, and are being fast tracked to college. They’ve always felt right at home in school, and were always grateful that no matter what they did wrong, someone was there to talk to them, set them straight, and give them another chance.
No one suspended them on the spot time after time after time like school officials did to Antwan. Folks looked out for them.
The message was clear to the young Black teen – if no one was really interested in helping him learn and improve his grades; if no one really cared enough to encourage him and show him the way, then he wasn’t willing to even try.
So Antwan drops out of high school.
And Billy and Susan? They are so thrilled that their old kindergarten teacher, Ms. Purpinski, took time from her retirement to attend their graduation. They are overjoyed.
“If it wasn’t for your dedication and caring, Ms. Purpinski, I don’t know if I’d be here now, “cried Susan, hugging the woman as Billy smiled, nodding his head.
Now the title of this editorial is “More Black Male Teachers Needed,” so why are we going on and on about Billy and Suzy?
Because Antwan, for all of his years in public school, never had one. More importantly, other impressionable, capable and valuable Black children like Antwan, have, and continue to go through their entire scholastic career, without ever seeing or interacting with a Black male teacher.
Now we already know that there is a severe shortage of Black teachers, period. But with less than 40,000 Black male teachers out of over 3 million full-time teachers overall across the nation, calling the need for that unique presence in our classrooms from the earliest grades on is an understatement.
We see the results – young Black males dropping out of school more than just about anybody else, except for Hispanics who are still struggling with the English language.
Young Black male students see school as a world not only dominated by people who don’t understand their needs – namely white teachers – but a world dominated by white female teachers and administrators, who have made it no secret that they are deftly afraid of Black male students of any age.
You can’t effectively teach someone you’re afraid of.
More importantly, you can’t teach someone you’ve already indicated you neither care about nor understand, nor want to even try.
Once a child, ANY child, gets THAT
message, his/her educational experience is downhill from there.
Now are all white female teachers ignorant about how to reach Black students in their classrooms? Of course not. We know many who know how cruel this world is for Black children, and they’ve reached out to the community to bring in role models – Black police officers, firefighters, military men, etc., to talk with the Black males in their classes, and open their eyes to the possibilities of the future.
But on the other hand, there are far too many white female teachers who care nothing about their Black students to the point that they actually tell them they dream too high, or don’t have the skills to achieve really lofty goals.
Do we have to say anymore about why getting more qualified, experienced, inspired and talented Black male teachers into the classroom is a top educational priority right now? Our young men need that male presence there that they can trust and talk to. They need a person who can model the lessons of responsibility and purpose; a person who sets high goals and standards; a mentor who has been where these young Black boys are, and can guide them toward their own path with confidence and intelligence.
Unless they have strong fathers or father figures in their lives already, our young Black male students are in desperate need of Black male teachers willing to put up with low pay, an unforgiving bureaucracy, and the ignorance of a racially biased white female culture that has all but killed the very essence of our children.
That may seem harsh, but it is also reality.
College students, we need you to make primary and secondary education your priority, your career path. Indeed, if you can spare time long before you go into teaching, just to spend time and mentor some of our young boys before they are lost forever, there could be no greater gift.
The Black community must do EVERYTHING it takes to save our children, teach our children, and adequately equip our children, to deal with this unforgiving world.
The men of our tomorrow are in our schools today.
What we do, or don’t do now, will determine who will, and who will not lead our community in the future.
Black male teachers, we lost Antwan.
We can’t afford to lose anymore!