Less than 2%. That’s the proportion of Black men who are public school teachers.
With Black and Brown students now comprising a near majority of America’s public school enrollment, our teaching force remains overwhelmingly white. With 79% of public school teachers identifying as white, we need Black teachers, to be sure. We need Black men teachers, especially. Research shows that Black men teachers have a profoundly positive effect on all students and particularly Black students.
Indeed, a Black boy with just one Black teacher is up to 39% less likely to drop out of school, and if a Black boy has just one Black male teacher, he is 18% less likely to be identified as needing special education services. When Black students have two Black elementary school teachers, they are 29% more likely to go to college.
Yet despite these persuasive indicators, our Black male teacher pipeline in most states and districts remains alarmingly anemic.
When I reflect on my own journey to becoming a teacher, I am reminded of people like Dr. Martin Ryder. Dr. Ryder showed me, a Black man in his early 20s, just weeks after being the victim of gun violence myself, that change happens inside the classroom. So while, yes, I did want to be an activist, it was through his mentorship that I came to fully understand that the highest and purest form of activism is teaching Black children well.
He and the few other Black men I taught with early in my career showed me what it meant to teach Black children well. They showed me — one Black man to another — that teaching isn’t some professionalized form of old school, legacy parenting–where children sit before a stern, serious, authoritarian instructor, and are told to be seen and not heard, to be quiet and only listen but not be listened to.
They showed me that teacher professional development must be so much more than something akin to shooting the breeze at the barbershop. No, to teach Black children well, Dr. Ryder and my Black male mentors showed me that we must be rigorously focused on teaching and learning and support our students to meet the high expectations that they are so deserving of, but far too often are not afforded.
Which is why the organization that I lead is hosting its 5th annual national Black Men Educators Convening/#BMEC2022. The goal of our Nov. 17-19, 2022, gathering is to provide learning and mentorship experiences specifically for Black men educators, from those aspiring to be teachers to classroom vets.
Our focus is on supporting schools, districts, and school organizations in building both the recruitment and retention systems and structures to create a robust and enduring pipeline for Black male educators–creating the conditions to ensure that more Black boys and men pursue teaching careers.
Investing in Black teachers, and particularly Black men, is critical and is one of the biggest interventions a district committed to equity, justice, and inclusion can make now, and not a moment later, at this critical point in history. This work permits not just bringing more Black teachers into the school, but making the kinds of lasting changes to a school and a district’s culture that will ensure they are supported for the long haul.
At the Center for Black Educator Development, we often say that the best recruitment strategy is a great retention strategy. That’s the case with getting more Black men into the classroom too. Schools and districts must take a look at their current policies, practices, and cultural ways and understand how that either supports Black teachers or pushes them out the door. Schools and districts must ask themselves if they are building or frustrating cultural competency in the classroom and hallways, for both students and teachers.
And so we will advance our thinking at the Black Men Educators Convening around how to do that work, in schools and districts across the country, to accelerate the reform needed to ensure that youth in today’s classrooms receive a high-quality, liberatory education that helps them to thrive now; and to leave a blueprint so that 100 years from now the pipeline of Black men educators is sustaining both itself and the educators it develops.
That’s our vision, and it is a worthy one — and achieving that vision will require support. It will require support from legislators, support from districts, support from the philanthropic community, and support from the Black men already in the classroom or in school and district leadership positions.
We need more Black men leading classrooms and schools, and we need everyone to do their part to make it happen. Earlier this year, I helped to launch the largest study ever centering male teachers of color with DonorsChoose, where 5,000 respondents were surveyed. Black male educators’ responses stood out, pointing to the impact they have in their school communities, the unique responsibilities they’re expected to shoulder, and how we can better recruit and retain these powerful educators.
Read the study Unique Impact, Unique Burdens: Insights Into the Black Male Educator Experience.
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Sharif El-Mekki is the founder and chief executive officer of the Center for Black Educator Development. The Center’s mission is to build the Black Teacher Pipeline to achieve educational equity and racial justice. El-Mekki is a nationally-recognized principal and U.S. Department of Education Principal Ambassador Fellow. He’s also a blogger on Phillys7thWard, a member of the 8 Black Hands podcast, and serves on several boards and committees focused on educational and racial justice.