This is a question that I posed recently on my Facebook page and I was honestly looking for real answers. For as long as I’ve been an educator and especially since I’ve been a contract substitute teacher in many districts across Rochester, NY (and even during my time as a teacher in Nashville, TN) the existence of the black male teacher has been nothing short of an anomaly.
The stares that I get when I walk into a building for the first time from both students and faculty alike often times have me feeling like I am an alien landing on a new planet for the first time. And after a quick check that I am not a) the help , b) the janitor and c) a real teacher; news quickly spreads (like wildfire) that a competent male teacher is officially in the building. To this day I vacillate between being amused by the gawking, back handed compliments, and blank stares to being annoyed, frustrated and angered.
Male teachers are lacking across the board. 2015 data from menteach.org shows that of the (3,152,000) elementary and middle school teachers 19.3% of of them are men and black men only make up only 2% of teachers in American public schools.
When thinking about the national teacher shortage that exists in New York State alone these statistics are alarming. It’s even more disheartening to think about all the low income children of color that often lack prominent figures in their lives on a daily basis that look anything like them; including the people that stand before them everyday in the classrooms.
Having interaction with college educated professionals that look like you is a privilege that most white students have. Yet most students of color don’t have these figures in their everyday lives. In fact I can count on one hand the number of black educators that I had in my school years. I can’t recall any of them being men. Think about this for yourself. If I never have images of black and brown men and women that hold positions of moral and intellectual authority what are the odds that I can truly intrinsically believe that I have the ability to grow up to be anything I want to be?
Teaching is not a top career choice for men of any race. For decades in public education; but especially starting in the 1950’s, teaching was a mainly white female profession. This fact is systemic and is echoed in a September 2014 article in the New York Times “ Why Don’t More Men Go Into Teaching” women entering the male dominated workforce were pushed into the nursing, airline, and teaching professions where they continue to dominate today.
In modern times teacher turnover is increasing due to a variety of factors and black teachers are more likely than white teachers to leave their jobs. Working conditions in many high-poverty, urban schools are not conducive to long, fulfilling careers and these disparities are even deeper for teachers of color. Pay cuts for special education, huge pay disparities, and tough bureaucratic structures make teaching less and less appealing to high school graduates.
For those of us living in Rochester, NY we only have to look to the Rochester City School District to see these national numbers represented at a local level. By and large the district is made up mostly of poverty stricken black and latino students being taught by white women.
The research is clear: Black students perform better when they are taught by black teachers.
White teachers expect less academic success from black students than black teachers do from the same students. A white teacher is about 30 percent less likely to predict a black student will complete a four-year college degree. “If I’m a teacher and decide that a student isn’t any good, I may be communicating that to the student,” said Nicholas Papageorge, co-author of the study. Read more
Black students are half as likely to be placed in gifted programs, even if they have the same test scores as their white peers. But when black students are taught by black teachers, the racial gap largely disappears. There is no gap for Hispanic students, after controlling for test scores. “This is especially troubling since previous studies have linked participation in gifted programs to improved academic performance, improvements in student motivation and engagement, less overall stress, and other positive outcomes,” said study author Jason Grissom. Read more
When a black student has a black teacher, that teacher is much less likely to see behavioral problems with that student than when the same black student has a white teacher. Hispanic teachers also give worse assessments of African-American students’ behavior. (African-American teachers do not give worse assessments of white or Hispanic students.) “The conclusions in this paper should be of interest to policy makers, especially in light of pervasive disparities in school disciplinary outcomes between African-American and white students,” concluded researcher Adam Wright. He estimated that if schools doubled the number of black teachers, the black-white suspension disparity could be cut in half. Read more
When black students have black teachers in elementary school they perform better on standardized tests. They are also more likely to graduate from high school. Having at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades reduced a black student’s probability of dropping out of high school by 29 percent. For very low-income black boys, their chance of dropping out fell nearly 40 percent. “Spending just one year with a teacher of the same race can move the dial on one of the most frustratingly persistent gaps in educational attainment — that of low-income black boys,” said author Nicholas Papageorge. “It not only moves the dial, it moves the dial in a powerful way.” Read more
I could go on and on with endless data that supports the conclusion that black students perform better when taught by black teachers. The fact of the matter is that representation matters in the classroom. It is clear that advocates, allies, and administrators need to do more to hire black and brown men in the classroom for the sake of students; no matter their race or ethnicity.
Calvin Eaton is the Founder & Executive Director of 540WMain Learning Academy and Editor in Chief of theglutenfreechefblog He has over a decade of experience as a teacher, behavior specialist, and special educator and received a Master of Science in Special Education from Middle Tennessee State University in 2012