Many Black educators, present company included, choose to intentionally work in urban schools and communities because they feel a great responsibility and calling to educate high-need populations of underserved and underprivileged students. As professionals, educators are charged with communicating instructional content in intellectually engaging, personally relevant, and culturally appropriate ways to equip well-rounded individuals of future generations. It is particularly incumbent upon Blacks in education to ensure the forward progress of Black students so that this historically marginalized group is prepared for college, career, and an empowered life beyond schooling. However, as the percentage of White students in our education system shrinks and the percentage of students of color grow exponentially, to meet population trends, the U.S. is now left with an education system that doesn’t serve the majority of its Black and Brown children properly. A host of studies have found that White teachers have lower expectations than Black teachers for the same population of Black students. As such, hiring and retaining more Black teachers helps to mitigate the imbalance of the gross mis-education in America.
Expansive gaps in academic performance prove especially problematic in that while Black students disproportionately attend schools with higher minority and low-income populations, the teachers, principals and administrators who interact with these students are of a different class and cultural representation altogether. As is true for any/all industries . . . #RepresentationMatters. America’s teachers are disproportionally female (75%) and White (83%), according to recent federal data. Black teachers comprise just over 6% of America’s educators, while Black men make up less than 2% of teachers, despite students of color now comprising a majority of students in public schools. And though teaching is an esteemed profession (from within), and certainly an innate calling which is solely responsible for preparing generations of thinkers, innovators and movers/shakers; because of meager salaries, high stress and widespread unfavorable public perception (due to high rates of job turnover), it is admittedly an uphill battle to attract young talent to the field. Among the reasons that educators cite for job dissatisfaction include: “lack of influence and autonomy,” “poor workplace conditions,” “classroom intrusions,” “poor salary/benefits,” “dissatisfied with teaching assignment,” and “class sizes too large”. These reasons though disheartening, are multiplied for Black educators opting to work in high-needs, urban communities, thus reflecting the primary obstacle in the dearth of educator talent.
As a pertinent case in point, Detroit has received nationwide attention for its failing schools, both public and charter, and despite a history of both private and government corruption and mismanagement, large numbers of failing school districts continue to operate without the proper checks/balances to ensure a positive educational outcome for the students enrolled in these institutions. However, despite a high percentage of Black residents in Detroit – Michigan’s percentage of Black students attending highly segregated schools is the second highest in the nation, according to recent data. The analysis found that 40% of the state’s Black students are in public schools in which the student bodies are more than 90% Black. “School segregation mirrors residential segregation,” according to a recent Detroit news article. Research has shown high levels of segregation correspond with low achievement, including the Associated Press analysis that found highly segregated schools on average had fewer students reaching state standards for proficiency in reading and math.
Yet, the problem of mis-education I.E. persistently low-performing Black students is not limited to particular cities, states, or locales. Therefore, education policy makers at the national level must study previous, failed attempts at education reform and subsequently forge coherent and effective solutions to reduce the prevalence of mis-education of Black students across the U.S. with practical solutions like attracting Black educators to the profession. There is an overarching belief that Black students’ academic excellence is largely dependent upon a positive view of their ethnic group identity and self-worth. The National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE) reinforced this ideology when it committed to developing scholarship solely on the underachievement of Black students. The NABSE argument for culturally responsive curriculum states: “African American children must be given the opportunity to experience an appropriate cultural education which gives them an intimate knowledge of and which honors and respects the history of our people — this means preparing students for self-knowledge and for becoming a contributing problem-solving member of his or her own community. No child can be ignorant of or lack respect for his or her own unique cultural group and meet others in the world on an equal footing”.
By their own overwhelming admission, ALL teachers demand to be equipped with the tools to address the increasing diversity of America’s schools and to effectively turn the tides of the persistent problem of the mis-education of Black students. The importance of culturally responsive teaching or the pedagogy of difference cannot be taken for granted in that educators must understand how their own identities are constructed and be social critics able to dissect and analyze our society. It is important that educators come to understand theoretically how difference is constructed through various representations and how education often operates in exclusion to the cultural capital and voices of various groups in American society. Similarly, a pedagogy of difference must address the important question of how the representations and practices of difference are actively learned, internalized, challenged, or transformed. I.E. how can there be a collective intention to #EducateToLiberate ALL students in American schools?
In this sense, all educators, even a representative number of the 82% of teachers who are White, are capable of empowering students from backgrounds different than their own by challenging dominant paradigms through curriculum design and instructional delivery. White teachers can bridge the cultural divide by adopting classroom practices and pedagogies that: liberate, transform and empower all students. There is a significant challenge to each White peer educator to build safe spaces in previously nonexistent, anti-racist classrooms and to create environments conducive to discuss and utilize tools to navigate relevant social issues which affect so many Black students daily. A model of continuous learning and social activism is a mandate for all teachers of Black students as a means to meet their differentiated educational needs. Timely adoption of culturally relevant models in teacher education and renewed reform efforts must increasingly challenge the dominant assumptions in traditional educational practices that unwittingly contribute to the mis-education of Black students, in particular.
Consider that Black students who report having had at least one Black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college, according to a study published in 2017, by the Institute of Labor Economics. This is proof positive that we must work rigorously to attract more Black educators to this noble career. Ultimately, having a teacher who readily identifies with the mis-education of Black students and despite this, maintains self-determination to succeed against the odds AND maintains high expectations for the success of Black children? This educator has the capacity to transform the scourge of mis-education overnight. Therefore, this is a rallying cry to articulate the following message, Wanted: Black educators! It’s time to engage serious, nationwide recruitment efforts in order to #EducateToLiberate. If not us, who? If not now, when?!