By Laura Onyeneho
If you click on the hashtag #WeNeedBlackTeachers on social media, you will see the collective responses of thousands of people describing the ways Black teachers have positively impacted students nationwide.
The non-profit the Center for Black Educator Development (CBED) is the creator of the national campaign, which strives to raise awareness about the shortage of Black teachers and inspire Black students to consider becoming future educators themselves. It launched in September and has expanded nationally with hopes of making an impact in multiple cities, including Houston.
“Our campaign is centered around students. They are reflecting on their lived experiences and their voices aren’t tapped into enough,” said Sharif El-Mekki, CEO and founder of the CBED. “We want to help these students become effective future educators and connect the dots to becoming leaders in educational justice.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13% of the U.S population is Black yet the public education system is composed of only 7% of Black teachers. The CBED states that Black students feel more engaged in the classroom with a Black teacher because it’s safer being taught by someone who can understand the reality of being Black in America.
“We have to ensure that every student has access to an outstanding teacher. We have to look at the career trajectory of Black teachers, and their experience in the full arc of the profession in leading into the principal role,” said Dr. Catherine Horn, director of the University of Houston’s Education Research Center (ERC). “Our research shows that the diminishing pool of Black educators has a significant historical context.”
According to the ERC’s QuantCrit Analysis of Black Teacher to Principal Pipeline study, for the first 200 years, Black education was suppressed by the prohibition of education of people enslaved in the U.S. Following emancipation, “resources were disproportionately distributed by white-dominant government to favor schools serving white students.”
Post-Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation efforts effectively mandated the education of Black children by white educators. History continues to show the role in which systemic racism and gender discrimination play in preventing educators from advancing on to pathways to leadership.
Horn added that there are reasons why retention of Black teachers is a concern, with low salaries among them. Some schools with large minority populations, particularly those in low-income communities, tend to have higher rates of teacher turnover. Closing the achievement gap in a majority-minority school is a large investment of time.
In some cases when schools experience budget cuts, poor working conditions and lack of resources, educators experience burnout. The lack of culturally responsive teaching and being able to create an environment to validate and reflect the diversity and experience of Black students is a problem as well.
Jamal Robinson, a member of the Houston Area Alliance of Black School Educators and a teacher in HISD, agrees that financial support will go a long way for Black educators. “Proper training, certification, and licensing costs money, and a lot of educators can’t afford it,” he said. “Loan forgiveness, bonuses and mentorship are all effective solutions.”
Robinson is a second-grade teacher and is often tired of playing the disciplinary role as a Black male educator.
“I am one of two Black male educators at my school and because of this, we are viewed more as disciplinarians. As if we have to be tough and strict in order to establish order in the classroom, he said. “I don’t want to feel limited to certain situations that white educators stereotypically believe that I should be capable of handling.”
Such concerns are the reason the CBED is collaborating with professors at UH and Texas Tech University for the development of a teacher preparation program to properly train Black and brown teachers for the workforce. They have also created the Freedom School Literacy Academy, a paid apprenticeship program that provides students with mentorship and hands-on experience to encourage teaching as a career option.
“We need to invite students into the profession early. Oftentimes, people speak poorly of the teaching profession,” said Mimi Woldeyohannes, director of Strategic Partnerships for CBED. “We need to be mindful about what we tell our young people. This is just our way of creating a generational model to help them connect the dots to racial and educational justice.”
The CBED recently hosted a Black Men Educators Conference, an online event discussing emotional work revolutionary Black men educators conduct daily along with a virtual seminar on Nov. 22 hosted once a month called Mbongi (meaning “learning place” in Congolese dialect), for young people to engage in the topics of what it means to be an educator. For more information visit www.thecenterblacked.org.
By the numbers
The ERC data findings describing the landscape of Black teachers and principals in Texas reveal the following:
Black teachers make up 11% of the teaching workforce and are most often prepared through an alternative certification program.
Black teachers are employed by campuses that serve high average concentrations of low-income (71%) and Black (34%) students and are located in major metropolitan areas of Texas.
6% of Black teachers become assistant principals after teaching for an average of 6.5 years.
2% of Black teachers become principals after serving as an assistant Principal for an average of 6.3 years.
Laura Onyeneho covers the city’s education system as it relates to Black children for the Defender Network as a Report For America Corps member. Email her at email@example.com
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