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5 Reasons Why Black Males Won't Become Teachers

On Monday, January 31st, filmmaker Spike Lee joined Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at Morehouse College, in Atlanta, GA for a town hall meeting. The purpose of the convening, which was attended by high school and college Black males, was to issue a call for more Black teachers in America.


This speech is not new for Duncan who gave a similar speech at a gathering of the National Council of Las Raza last year. In that speech he stated, “Latino and black males make up just 3.5 percent of America’s teachers.”


Nearly 40 percent of public school students are Black or Latino. In many school districts this statistic hovers above 90 percent. With a teaching force of 3 million, less than 8 percent are Black and fewer than 4 percent are Hispanic/Latino. In schools inside central cities, 73 percent of teachers are white. In urban schools outside of central cities, 91 percent of public school teachers are white.


Historically, the teaching profession is highly regarded in the Black community. Before the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision, those who were able to attend college, oftentimes returned to their neighborhoods to teach in all-black schools. But over the decades the numbers of Black teachers have diminished, causing national attention.



So why aren’t Black males becoming teachers?


1. Too many opportunities for growth

The percentage of Black male college graduates is the smallest of any other gender/race group in the United States. Due to their small numbers, many graduates are in high demand. And unlike the 1960s, there isn’t a profession that is ‘off-limits’ to Blacks.


For those graduates who do go into teaching, they don’t seem to last very long. When I first became a teacher my principal and vice-principal were Black males. They were the only ones on staff. Since then I have been on the faculty of other schools and I have never had a Black male as a teacher colleague. However, I have had interactions with Black males who are working at the administrative level. Male teachers often teach for a few years and are quickly picked for higher positions within schools or at the district level.


2. Salary

Let’s face it, a first year teacher’s salary can barely pay a monthly student loan bill. The average national teaching salary is less than $50,000. In many cities, this narrowly qualifies as middle-class.


For many Blacks, they are the first generation attending college. There’s a great burden on them to not only graduate but to sustain themselves. There are times when new graduates are also asked to support family members who are struggling. Few have the luxury of support from family members to take care of any accrued costs during the college years.





3. Not considered a professional

We are not in Finland or Shanghai. Teachers are not highly regarded or respected as professionals in the United States. With the establishment of programs such as Teach for America, teaching is only seen as a stepping stone to a real career.


When former NYC Mayor Giuliani started the NYC Teaching Fellows, it started a storm of alternative paths to become a teacher. The impression was given that anyone could become a teacher with a 6-week training.



4. Limited Access

The road to the classroom is often filled with standardized tests and burdensome forms. Unless you are in a program such as Teach for America or the Teaching Fellows, the roadmap to navigate the certification system is long and treacherous.


Blacks are not performing well on standardized exams. When New York State began to require certification for NYC teachers in 1998 the number of Black teachers declined dramatically. According to a state report, in the 2006-07 school year, Blacks made up just 4% of newly certified teachers who identified their race. The exams have kept many willing teaching candidates outside of the classrooms or regulated to substitute teaching roles.



5. Machismo

Teaching is predominately a female profession. Teachers not only provide information, they also nurture and care. This combination of characteristics is perceived to favor the female gender.


The call for more Black male teachers is real. I’m just not sure we can overcome the factors keeping them away. Do you have any other reasons for this dilemma?


This post is part of the Those Who Can, Teach series. For the month of February these posts will focus on the Black Educator.

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