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During my sophomore year of high school, I experienced something completely unprecedented and, until that year, I hadn’t realized how vital it was to my self-esteem, self-identification and self-growth.
I finally had a teacher who looked like me.
I finally would see the face of another black woman every day. That school year, I reached new levels of academic achievement that I did not know were possible and applied myself more than ever. If I never experienced having a teacher who looked like me and connected to me in ways that none of my other teachers were able to, I wouldn’t have improved as much as I did or achieved my full potential.
My experience raises a concern for me about black boys.
Black male students benefit greatly from the guidance and mentorship of black male teachers. But black men account for only 2 percent of all teachers in American public schools. When do black boys get the opportunity to connect, relate and reach their full potentials? Why has this happened, and how does it affect black male students in their K-12 academic journeys?
After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, African American teachers were pushed out of schools and out of the teaching profession to make integration more appealing to white families. Many white families did not want their children to be taught by African American teachers.
Before Brown v. Board, there were 82,000 black teachers in American public schools. In the wake of the ruling, 40,000 black teachers and administrators lost their jobs. Over time, teaching came to be a profession dominated by women. To this day, this remains true. Once it was established that women could be hired and paid substantially less than men, the field was flooded with women.
This historical tension of not feeling wanted or valued by the educational system is understandable. However, the tension needs to be released and, instead, the future of our young black boys needs to be seriously considered. Over 50 percent of students in U.S. public schools are minorities, and far more than 50 percent of teachers are white. The lack of cultural competence and consideration affects black students disproportionately — hence, the severity of racial disparities surrounding certain issues, such as the school-to-prison pipeline.
My best advice to teachers, especially aspiring black male teachers, is to remember: You are the least important person in the room. Studies show that the effect of having a black male teacher, especially between grades 3 and 5, decreases the dropout rate among black male students by 30 percent and increases the likelihood of black students aspiring to higher education. We need more black male teachers in public schools. A positive snowball effect of representation in classrooms will also increase the number of black boys who aspire to become teachers, aiding generations to come.
If we care about the fate and future of our young black boys, it is imperative that black male teachers are sought after, hired and provided the proper professional development to excel in their incomparably important positions: teaching, inspiring and guiding the youth.
Quality teachers of any race and background are appreciated and valued. But for black male students, the positive and extensive impact of teachers who look like them should not be underestimated or dismissed.
One teacher can affect the lives of hundreds — even thousands — of students. Black students deserve, at the very least, the opportunity to experience being taught, guided by and understood by the teacher at the front of their classrooms.
The first step? Black men realizing the importance of their role, and dramatically increasing the number of black male teachers from a meager 2 percent.
This story about a teaching force that better reflects the racial diversity of U.S. students was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.
Nyla Pollard is a member of the women’s basketball team at The College of William & Mary, where she is double-majoring in sociology and elementary education. Her interests include research and advocacy for children of color, children from impoverished backgrounds and children involved in athletics.