Why America Needs More Black Male Teachers
This article and photo originally appeared in EdSurge and are reprinted with permission.
Two percent. That figure may seem insignificant, until you understand the context. Despite students of color representing more than half the student population, Black males make up only two percent of the teacher workforce. So as it happens, that statistic is very significant as this lack of diversity has negative implications for all students.
For years, Black males have been underrepresented in PK-12 education. While there have been many efforts to diversify classrooms by adding more Black male educators, there are still obstacles preventing us from successfully reaching this goal. Now these educators are speaking up and their voices are sounding the alarm for education diversity.
For years, Black males have been underrepresented in PK-12 education.
To capture these voices, I led a team of research fellows from the University of Phoenix’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion Research. We interviewed Outstanding Black Male Fellows from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) to critically examine the career trajectories of Black male educators from three perspectives: recruitment, retention, and mobility. Their poignant voices were published a joint white paper entitled, “Having Our Say: Examining Career Trajectories of Black Male Educators in P-12 Education.”
While the paper spotlighted their valuable insights, observations and opinions, voices alone won’t increase the representation of Black males in the classroom. We hope to use the fellows’ insights to provide recommendations for future initiatives, models and actions supporting Black males in education.
Diversifying Our Nation’s Classrooms
Black male students benefit from having a Black male teacher, with research noting lower dropout rates, fewer disciplinary issues, more positive views of schooling and better test scores
The voices of these Black educators demonstrate that a diverse and inclusive workforce within PK-12 education is critical to ensuring that our nation’s students receive a robust, quality education. J. Medgar Roberts was an author of the paper and NNSTOY contributor. His story is a great example of the impact of diversity in today’s classrooms.
A year into his teaching career, Roberts found himself the sole Black male core content teacher at his school after a legendary career math teacher retired. He would soon learn that this was a trend in many schools. In his 25 years teaching middle and high school, the most Black male colleagues he’s worked with was around 15—out of a staff of more than 300. And that number is highly unusual.
A special story recently emerged regarding Roberts. After changing schools and moving more than 150 miles away, a former student—a young Black male graduate of the class of 2019 whom Roberts never taught in the classroom—thanked him for his mentorship and support during convocation. The young man is an aspiring educator and Roberts was the teacher at the school who understood his situation. Though he did not intentionally enter the role of mentor, he happily embraces that role: representation matters.
Now the assistant principal at a middle school in Texas, the University of Phoenix alumnus makes it clear that he never bemoaned being one of a few Black male teachers—in fact, he embraced it. The challenge of “being himself” and not feeling responsible for taking up the podium to speak on behalf of all Black male teachers was difficult at first. But, he credits it for keeping him in education to help the students who need his perspective.
Roberts’ experience is reflected in the voices many of the NNSTOY fellows we spoke with. They point out that there continue to be consistent and prevalent challenges to diversifying the teaching population within education reform efforts. The paper focused on three primary theories for why Black male educators are necessary in the classroom.
First, Black teachers are more likely to be familiar with the cultural needs of Black students, thus creating a space for positive academic achievement to occur.
Second, Black male students benefit from having a Black male teacher, with research findings noting lower dropout rates, fewer disciplinary issues, more positive views of schooling and better test scores.
Finally, there is a theory Black educators—with a specific focus on Black male educators—have a positive impact on children of all races and the teaching profession as a whole, with many noting that the lack of a diversified teacher workforce continues to undermine egalitarianism within society through the reinforcement of persevering social inequalities and inequities.
While schools of thought may vary surrounding the benefits of Black male representation in education, there is an overarching level of agreement: The lack of Black males in teaching positions has serious implications in classroom settings and diversification needs to be a continuing priority within educational reform efforts.
Fixing the Leaky Classroom Pipeline
For Black males, underrepresentation continues to plague those who seek to increase the presence of Black males in classrooms across the nation. Our research found that Black male teachers often note similarities within their experiences once entering school settings. Overall, Black teachers are often recruited to teach in schools serving large populations of students of color, many plagued with a lack of resources and high teacher turnover rates.
Those who become teachers often face difficulties with teacher preparation programs that frequently become barriers to teacher certification. In addition, they face challenges with standardized testing, instances of racism, marginalization and isolation, all of which often have serious implications.
There is an obligation for policymakers and school administrators to examine and implement sustainable initiatives aimed at creating inclusive, equitable and supportive school environments
While we’re not suggesting this as an absolute, NNSTOY fellows related inequitable teaching conditions, the lack of peer and leadership support, unrealistic accountability expectations and scarce resources as common experiences when entering a new school setting. All these factors are creating a “leaky” classroom pipeline that is further hindering diversity in classrooms. We must take action to ensure that these obstacles are eliminated and ensure that Black males have a clearer path to education careers.
Increasing the Black male teacher representation in schools across the nation requires strategic planning, including collaborative efforts at the national, state, district and local levels. A long-term commitment of resources and continuous championing for diversity of our nation’s classrooms remains the most promising way to effectively staff schools with Black male educators.
To combat obstacles around recruiting, retaining and advancing Black male educators, there is an obligation for policymakers and school administrators to examine and implement sustainable initiatives aimed at creating inclusive, equitable and supportive school environments where all can thrive.
On Friday, September 20, my school, the University of Phoenix, will host a roundtable webinar focused on further examining diversifying P-12 education. Following the conference, the school’s Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research will focus on a yearlong research project, examining the socialization experiences of Black male educators in our nation’s classrooms.
This continued research creates opportunities to strategically challenge many of the persistent stereotypes of Black men—and all people of color—within society. It is time their voices are heard.
Kimberly Underwood is university research chair for the Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research at University of Phoenix.