Updated: Jun 15, 2019
A couple of weeks ago, while attending the 2nd Annual Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance Leadership Conference I learned about an alarming statistic.
Among all public school teachers across the country, only 2% of them are African American males. Yes, only 2%! So that means in many schools African American male students may never see someone who looks like them in teaching positions their whole K-12 educational career.
What message does that send to our African American male students?
Moreover, what message does that send to all students and possibly families? These questions and many more are not being asked, but are simmering in the thoughts of students, teachers, and families. Well, it is an epidemic facing our public school systems throughout the country.
According to the research done by the Department of Education—
“When black students have black teachers in elementary school they perform better on standardized tests. They are also more likely to graduate from high school. Having at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades reduced a black student's probability of dropping out of high school by 29 percent.” (2016)
I can speak from personal experience about the impact of my first African American male teacher which was in 5th grade. Ironically, he was a music teacher.
He was cool, smart, hip, and . . . he looked like me.
I was instantly connected and wanted to be a part of his school band even though I couldn’t play the trumpet to save my life! Now, looking back at that point in time I realize that was a major academic milestone for me as a student.
I felt like I belonged. I felt safe. I felt loved.
That experience may be why I’m an music educator today. The level of passion that my 5th grade band teacher displayed on a daily basis gave me a thirst for learning that I didn't know existed. By having an African American male teacher, I had an advocate, someone who would hold me accountable, but more importantly, I finally had a teacher that I trusted. Did you notice many of the changes that happened to me as a student had little or nothing to do with taking a test? It had everything to do with being treated as a person, a human being, feeling valued and respected.
Throughout my middle school years, I did not have a African American male teacher. The next time I would have African American male teachers would be my junior and senior year of high school. These two men, were very instrumental in my development as a young man. They were tough teachers and played no games, but through their discipline and hard shell I learned life lessons that would prepare me for the road ahead. Even then, it never dawned on me, that my whole entire high school career I only had two African American male teachers. I just thought that was the way it was.
Through divine intervention and with an awesome university professor during my student teaching experience at the University of Memphis both of my supervising/mentor teachers were African American males. That semester of learning was invaluable as a new teacher in the profession. These two veteran teachers displayed a level of excellence that inspired me to dig deeper and to consider the influence that I would have as an African American male educator. Through those learning experiences I gained “tools” for my teacher “toolbox” that otherwise I would have not gained. Once again, I was able to envision myself as a educational professional because of their example.
To be more specific, I want to talk about a cultural phenomenon that has swept the nation the past year, Black Panther! If you have not seen the movie, “What are you waiting for?”
The reason I bring up this movie is not because of the millions of dollars it has made at the box office, or the unforgettable fight scenes, or even memorable costumes. I mention this movie because what it represents for most African Americans. We get to see ourselves portrayed as strong, intelligent, courageous characters with purpose and passion.
In the film, the rich cultural African history was praised and not mocked. It made me feel empowered to be my true authentic self and to never be ashamed of my heritage and where I come from. More importantly, as a first time dad (December 11th, 2017), it makes me excited and happy that my son will one day see himself on the big screen not as a pimp, hustler, drug dealer, thug, but as a King, a president, or even a teacher.
My son, Edward