By Sam P.K. Collins
In 2022, Kurt Russell, a Black male history teacher from Ohio, became the National Teacher of the Year. That occasion not only shed light on Russell’s efforts to reveal all facets of American history, but the lack of Black men in school buildings across the country.
Black men currently account for less than 2% of the U.S. public school teacher workforce, according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Teacher and Principal Survey and Dr. Travis J. Bristol of the University of California, Berkeley. This trend has been attributed to the lack of mentorship or misalignment in certain educational environments.
In the aftermath of a pandemic that brought to light glaring educational inequities and hurdles teachers face in the classroom, the number of Black male teachers dwindles daily. As teacher retention becomes more of a hot-button issue, elected officials at the local and federal level are exploring ways to attract and keep more people in the profession, including a salary increase, revamping teacher evaluations, and creating a teacher pipeline from local schools.
Black Male Educators in the Community: Langston Tingling-Clemmons
Teachers like Langston Tingling-Clemmons provide examples of Black male leadership in the classroom.
Tingling-Clemmons, who was recently featured in The Informer for his take on the social studies standards revamp, continues on his mission to help students to gain a holistic knowledge of U.S. history and make connections between the past and present day, as it relates to their daily lives.
Clemmons, a native Washingtonian and DC Public Schools (DCPS) alumnus, comes from a family of educators. He currently teaches eighth grade U.S. History at Jefferson Middle School Academy in Southwest. Previous stints include Friendship Public Charter School – Woodridge Elementary & Middle School, where he also served as a history teacher during the Obama presidency.
While teaching hadn’t always been in the cards for Tingling-Clemmons, he entered the profession in 2010 as a Teach for America Fellow after graduating from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He said the first two years were trial by fire. However, he would later come to improve his classroom management and better ensure that students gravitated toward the content.
Throughout his 13 years of teaching, Tingling-Clemmons has taught hundreds of young people, many of whom he still provides mentorship. Tingling-Clemmons has helped shape DCPS curriculum, and collaborated on shaping the African-American History elective taken in District high schools.
At the height of the pandemic, Tingling-Clemmons represented his fellow Washington Teachers’ Union members in demanding that the Bowser administration delay the return to in-person learning.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, Tingling-Clemmons has also become more intentional about channeling youths’ frustrations into civic engagement. Activities over the last couple years include Q&A sessions with D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and classroom discussions about council legislation that directly affects students.
In coming to recognize his influence as a Black male educator, Tingling- Clemmons said he works day in and day out to bring some sort of relevancy to U.S. History for students who, like he did, are coming of age in the nation’s capital.
“I’ve seen students get angry about things told to them that’s not true and get highly upset about things that are happening,” Tingling-Clemmons said. “I try to bring something relevant to their lives every month. Those types of lessons and the lessons that dismantle the lies told about Thomas Jefferson and Christopher Columbus encourage my students to see the things that have been taught. I create a classroom that questions how racism plays a part in U.S. history.”