National percentages of black male teachers and administrators are extremely low. Explore common problems and common sense solutions regarding poor performance of black boys in American schools.
A February 19, 2013 article in the Washington Post, by columnist Courtland Milloy calls for black male teachers to lead by example.
In the article, Mr. Milloy places part of the blame of the low performance of black male students on the extremely low numbers of black male schoolteachers and administrators. National issues for black males such as truancy and suspensions are connected to extremely low numbers of teachers that share students’ skin color.According to the U.S. Department of Education, black men make up 2% of the nation’s 4.8 million teachers. And black men comprise only 1% of those currently enrolled in teacher development programs.
In Washington, DC, where I work as an educator, approximately 10% of the teachers are black males. Even with a relatively high percentage of black male teachers, many of the same issues of truancy, suspension, and behavior concerns plague the public and charter school system. In nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, where black students make up 21% of the population, black students are suspended at a rate of 71%.
When you have a well-prepared African American man teaching black boys, the impact can be phenomenal,” said Brenda L. Townsend Walker, an attorney and a professor of special education at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “I have interviewed African American male students who had pretty much written school off, whose teachers had given up on them, but whose lives were turned around when they got into a class with African American men. Generally speaking, they just have a better ability to relate to the students and mediate situations that others couldn’t handle.
It is my hope that through the Education section of the Good Men Project, we can offer common sense solutions based in experience and research in tandem with the myriad of problems impacting sections of boys in the United States. Below are 3 small suggestions of possible solutions for the poor performance of black boys—aside from the obvious, but difficult task of recruiting more black male teachers and administrators.
- Most important, and possibly the easiest solution is raising expectations and changing the culture of mediocrity placed upon black boys and “black schools”. This is the responsibility of all teachers and administrators in every public, charter, and private school in the United States. If we, as educators can’t and don’t believe that all students are capable of being exceptional, and rising beyond their circumstances, then how can they. International coach and motivator Les Brown says that “no one rises to low expectations.”
- Schools systems must invest in quality and comprehensive diversity training—not the kind of diversity training that we all love to hate—but intensive and ongoing training that delves into topics of privilege, racism, history, and oppression. It’s hard to bridge the achievement gap when there are some teachers that are scared of students because of social and cultural difference. In many of our schools, black students and parents are constantly dealing with a system that is biased and culturally insensitive. A little cultural sensitivity can go a long way to encourage and lift students to a higher level of achievement.
- Assuming that we all agree that it is extremely important for black male students to see black male teachers and administrators in the school environment, we know that the numbers are disproportionately low. School systems should partner with community based and local mentor programs run by college organizations, fraternities, non-profit organizations, and/or parents and allow men from the community to lead workshops, assist in the classroom, or simply monitor the hallways or lunchrooms.
Lastly, and it must be said, black male teachers and administrators are not only important for the development of black male students. All students (and staff) benefit from cultural and racial diversity reflected in the school. To assume that black male teachers and administrators only benefit black students is reflective of an old-school approach to old-school problems.
Photo by: James Sarmiento