By ReShonda Tate Billingsley, Special to the NNPA from the Chicago Defender –
CHICAGO (NNPA) - It's a nationwide problem - the shortage of Black male teachers. Only two percent of the nation's nearly five million teachers are African American.
“That’s one in 50 teachers. Something is wrong with that picture,” says U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “As a country, we have a huge challenge to make sure many more of our young Black boys are successful. Our graduation rates have to go up dramatically, our dropout rates have to go down. To get there, I’m convinced we have to have more men of color teaching, being role models, being mentors and doing so not just in high school but on the elementary level.”
Duncan is leading the charge to get more Black males in the classroom – either on the elementary or secondary level. But he admits that it’s a huge challenge that may be an uphill battle.
Nowhere is that challenge more evident than in the Lone Star State.
In Texas, there are more than 333,090 public school teachers, and less than one percent are Black men. Two out of three Texas teachers in the past school year were white, and the state projects that minority students will make up around 62 percent of the student body in the 2011-12 school year, up more than 10 percent from a decade ago. In the Houston Independent School District, the country’s second largest school district, of the 12,829 teachers, only 1,043 are Black males – despite the fact that the district is 26.5 percent African American. In Fort Bend, the seventh largest district in Texas, 31.42 percent of students are Black, and there are only 265 Black male teachers. The lack of Black males in the classroom ultimately, education officials say, hurts everyone.
“The research shows that if you can match the ethnicity and race of teachers and students, teachers tend to be more effective,” said Ed Fuller, associate director of the University Council for Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s important for role modeling and pushing those students to go to college. Of course, you want to make sure teachers are well-qualified and not just thrown into a classroom because of race or ethnicity.”
Why the disparity?
The national epidemic is brought on by a myriad of factors – from low salaries, to declining Black graduation rates, to changing perceptions about education. Texas school districts hire about 30,000 to 35,000 new teachers every year, but the pool of minorities interested in the profession is small, and is particularly acute in early-childhood and lower grades, and is partly pay-related.
“Teachers in elementary school typically don't make as much money as teachers in high school do,” says Reginald Weaver, president of the National Education Agency. “More than 50 percent of male teachers are at the high school level.”
In HISD, teachers with a Bachelor’s degree start at roughly $45,000 a year.
“For a man trying to support a family, that’s simply not enough,” says businessman Lewis Anderson, who left his teaching job with HISD after two years to make more money. “I would’ve loved to teach on the elementary level, but I had a family to support and as the breadwinner of the family, I needed more money. So I took a job in a high school because I could subsidize my income with coaching. Ultimately, I had to leave to find a job that paid more altogether.”
“If you started paying teachers $150,000 per year, you'd see a lot of guys going into the field,” adds Bryan Nelson, founder of MenTeach.
Other key reasons behind the male-teacher shortage, according to MenTeach, is the stereotype that teaching is “women's work,” as well as possible fears of lawsuits around accusations of sexual abuse of children.
Brian Hendrickson, a sixth-grade social studies teacher polled his students to find out how they feel their male teachers differed from their female teachers. The results: Male teachers tend to use sports analogies, such as “Standardized tests are the Super Bowl of knowledge.” They are more tolerant of chitchat and are more likely to integrate active learning methods, including competitions and games, into the curriculum. They also tend to be funnier, the informal poll suggested.
“Men tend to give more direction in their approach to sharing knowledge,” says Stephen Jones, a longtime educator and the author of Seven Secrets of How to Study. “They want to appear to be the expert.” Women, on the other hand, are more likely to collaborate with students and incorporate their ideas, Jones says. “Therefore, men who are teaching mixed classes must incorporate collaborative and direct instruction to meet the needs of all students.”
Mark Brewer believes the Civil Rights movement may have actually had an adverse effect on Black male teachers.
“About 30 years ago the education field was one of the major avenues available for those with higher education. Hence, someone would major in a field, be denied the chance to truly make a career of it, so they taught the subject to others. Since the civil rights movement when Blacks were allowed to move out of an enclave to the suburbs, most of their sons were pointed to other fields of study. The major emphasis was more money, as well as, to fields once off limits to men of color. Earlier generations may have had more emphasis on uplift of race through education, today’s generations may have more focus on financial gain, trappings, and attaining the so called “American dream’,” he said.
In some cases, others at the school ask male teachers to play disciplinarian.
“A lot of female teachers would come to me if they had a disciplinary problem -- mainly with boys -- and ask me to handle it,” says Alan Flory, a retired special education teacher with twenty-eight years of experience. “I didn't particularly appreciate it, but I did it.”
Black males also leave teaching at a higher rate than their colleagues, according to a 2003 study by the National Education Association, a national teacher's union. Half of black males leave the profession before retirement, compared with 30 percent of all teachers.
Why they stay
At KIIP Academy – Sharpstown, David Tell is one of only two African American teachers out of staff of twenty-seven. He knows the startling statistics regarding Black males in his profession and he’s not deterred.
“I was that textbook kid who my teacher saw potential and they dragged me out of the crowd. I thought about all the kids that were left behind. For me, I decided to teach and continue to find that potential in all of our children. A lot of times, just seeing someone that has a similar story, that looks like them, that shares a similar background, the kids kinda reach out,” said Tell, who is entering his ninth year as a teacher.
“I wanted to have an impact on the next generation,” says Chaz Douglas, who teaches first grade and was one of only three Black male education majors at Eastern Michigan State. “I had a Black teacher as a high school freshman. He impacted me and I said I want to have that same impact on a student and make a difference on the elementary level.”
“I was a special education teacher for two years,” says Jeffrey Campbell, who initially worked as an auditor for the first seven years after college. “I was inspired by a male friend who has just started teaching (and is still teaching) to investigate transitioning into education. It was a good fit and really equipped me to do much of the work that I do today. My biggest challenge as a teacher was the recognition of the lack of cultural sensitivity, particularly when it came to some white teacher’s inability to understand and nurture young Black male students. I taught on the east side of the Alief School District during a time when schools in that area were transitioning from predominately white schools to predominately minority schools. Much of this change was caused by many of the apartment complexes in the area being designated as Section 8 properties. Almost overnight white teachers in these schools were faced with classes filled with Black and brown faces. Those teachers, although good teachers, were not prepared to handle these new students and it was the students who suffered from it.”
Even though he left the field (only to pursue a career in ministry), Campbell remains committed to young people and says he’d like to see more Black male teachers in the classroom.
“Black male teachers are needed in schools because Black children and youth from pre-K through 12th grade need Black men in their lives as role models, guides, mentors and wisdom resources,” Campbell said.
Changing the face of the classroom
A Harvard University Kennedy School of Government study published in 2004 concluded that white and Black students did better on state tests with teachers of their own race. The findings indicated that recruiting more minority teachers could generate important gains among minority students. One of the reasons is that minority teachers better understand cultural differences and can “break down the students’ stereotypes,” according to the study.
Fuller said the state hasn’t pushed hard to get more minority college graduates into the classroom.
“It’s hard to change the makeup of our teaching force very quickly,” he said. “The state leadership hasn’t paid much attention to this problem or even thought about it for years and that’s why we are where we are. We don't stand alone in this crisis, this challenge, there are coast to coast, states, colleges, universities, school districts faced with the same challenges. We think that by placing African American men in the classroom is extremely critical because we're losing so many black males in the school district in school system. In fact, more than half of our children don't make it through high school. That's an alarming statistic.”
To attract more male teachers, heavy recruiting at the university level is necessary, says Steve Peha, president of Teaching That Makes Sense, an education-consulting company. “We won't see more male teachers if we don't see more young men pursuing teaching degrees,” he notes.
One of the more prominent recruitment programs is Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models), which provides tuition assistance and leadership training to male African American students pursuing education degrees. When the 150 participants in the program, which originated at South Carolina's Clemson University, finally start working, they will double the number of Black men teaching in the state's elementary schools. The program has ten participating colleges throughout the state, and two other colleges in Pennsylvania and Virginia are replicating it.
Still, according to Peha, a coordinated effort to recruit male teachers is lacking, in part because some education experts remain unconvinced about the added value male teachers bring to the classroom. “If we want more men in the classroom, we'll need to see some data about the benefits of a gender-balanced corps," he notes.
Campbell says he would like to see a grass-roots effort to get more Black men.
“I think you need recruitment programs starting in high school, similar to Future Teachers of American that specifically target Black males. These recruitment programs should be lead by a myriad of individuals who not only equip these young men to be educators but also equip them to be well rounded individuals. School Districts should be connected to these programs providing information about their individual hiring requirements and offering internships for the young men in the programs. This would look something like the internships that Shell Oil and other major corporations hosts annually,” Campbell said.
And Tell says recruiters can start by changing the mindset about teachers.
“We still have a stereotype about teaching, especially Black males because we have this macho façade. I think if you can pump up the need for role models. Get away from ‘you’re in a classroom making lesson plans,’ and focus on ‘you get to bond with children and be a father figure.’ Pay more attention on the mentoring aspect and you’d reach more Black males,” he said.
Getting more Black male teachers in the classroom, Duncan adds, is a win-win for everyone.
“When we get more Black male teachers, all of our students benefit, white, Blacks, Hispanics, but particularly young Black male. They gravitate to them, find them before school, looking for a connection. When young people don’t have that positive mentor, there’s always a guy on the street corner that says ‘come my way I’ll take care of you.’”