I recently saw a tweet that cautioned Black folks to divest from the “Black Male Educator as the Messiah” myth in education and it got me thinking; is there a messiah myth about Black male educators in education circles?
The answer depends on who you ask.
I can say from personal experience that my Black-maleness was welcomed in schools by both Black and white educators alike, but for different reasons. Black educators welcomed my presence because my presence could serve as another model for Black children, particularly Black young boys, of the potential within them. Black educators also saw in me another comrade in the fight for Black education.
Black parents saw me as an extension of themselves in the classroom.
I was never considered a messiah, simply a member of the collective village necessary to raise and rear Black children in an anti-Black society.
As for white educators, they often saw me a bit differently. While some saw me as a teacher who could contribute to the academic and community culture of the school, others saw me as a “Black child whisperer” — someone who could control Black children. My Black-maleness was considered an attribute to teach a culturally non-responsive, non-relevant and culturally ignorant curriculum.
I was viewed as the one who could make Black children docile enough to comply with policies and procedures. They saw me as an enforcer of often non-student-centered rules or an overseer of Black children.
They also saw me as their translator/spokesman for matters of anti-Black racism and/or systemic racism. Whether it was professional development to a mostly white faculty, speaking to students on behalf of the school community, or serving as the resident “ask a Black person” for white faculty who discovered racism for the first time, in the minds of those folks I was the guy.
This is what we refer to as the invisible tax.
Those same white educators who saw me as such also considered my presence as evidence of their commitment to diversity. However, they made up the majority of educators in the schools where I worked and they knew that, but I digress.
I knew who saw me as a comrade and who saw me as a “messiah.” My experience serves as my evidence. The proof is also laid bare in the testimonies of Black educators found in numerous reports and even in academic research from scholars including Drs. Travis Bristol, Chezare Warren and others.
These reports offer testimony from Black teachers as to why they were hired, which gives insight into who specifically saw them as messiahs and why. However, a Black teacher’s “messiah-ness” only goes so far. When it came to my expertise in other areas, including content knowledge, my administrative skills, or my pedagogical expertise, that stuff was either ignored or dismissed.
I wasn’t wanted for those things.
My purpose was to keep Black children in line enough for them to “learn” and to support white educators however they needed. That’s because Black male teachers are rarely recognized for their content knowledge, pedagogical abilities, and ability to teach all children.
My approach to the classroom, however, was not to serve my students and their families as those educators thought I should. Rather, I was the comrade and the extension that Black educators and Black parents saw me as. I dealt with conflict along the way because of it, but I knew that my job was to give Black children what they needed; an educator who taught them the truth, sharpened them academically and personally with love, and to be their advocate in a white institutional space.
I was no one’s messiah. Rather, I was a mentor, an advocate, a resource, and a teacher; all of which Black children need.
Make no mistake, we need more Black male teachers; Black male teachers only make up 1.5% of all teachers — we need more. And we need organizations like the Center for Black Educator Development, working to not only recruit Black teachers, but also to support their retention as well.
What Black Children Need
Policymakers and researchers alike have called for school districts nationwide to hire more Black male teachers. The rationale is the evidence that having a same-race and same-gender teacher can serve as a mechanism for improving the academic outcomes for Black students. The effect of having a Black male teacher, especially between grades 3 and 5, decreases the dropout rate among Black male students by 30% and increases the likelihood of Black students aspiring to higher education.
Black children need Black male teachers, not so-called saviors or messiahs; or those with such complexes or misconceptions. But, we also don’t need anyone appearing to belittle our importance and significance either.
Black children need policies and procedures in place that put them in the best positions to be both academically and personally successful. That means hiring more Black teachers; men and women. It means the creation and application of a culturally sustaining curriculum that both affirms Black identity and challenges anti-Blackness found in both popular culture and public policy. It means changing the model of discipline from ex-communication to restoration.
Black children need schools who see and treat them as human beings.
Black male teachers aren’t the solution for the challenges of Black students, but they must be made part of the strategy for equipping Black children to overcome those challenges. Calling Black male teachers, or Black teachers in general, messiahs for Black children does nothing more than create a level of anxiety that pushes Black teachers out of the classroom. Therefore, we must be wise to frame Black teachers, particularly Black male teachers, as a critical component for the success of all children, particularly Black children.
Lest we do otherwise, continuing the cycle of ridding Black teachers from the classroom as soon as they arrive.