Shortly after graduating from Temple University 16 years ago, I discovered my passion for teaching when I was working at Tanner Duckrey School in Philadelphia as an Americorps member through a program called EducationWorks. Demographically, Duckrey was similar to most schools within the School District of Philadelphia. Approximately 90% of the student body was Black, and the remaining 10% was a combination of Asian, Latinx and Indigenous students.
It was a Title 1 school, which meant that it was receiving financial assistance from the state of Pennsylvania in order to service the high percentage of students who were coming from low-income families. Like most schools in North Philadelphia, Duckrey had its share of students who fell victim to many of the common social vices that plague most inner cities in America — teenage pregnancy, gun violence, drug use, homelessness and poverty. I witnessed all of these things during my time there.
As the school year progressed, I naturally started to observe the dynamics and inner workings of the school. There was one day in particular where I reached an epiphany that would forever change the trajectory of my life. I realized that, in almost every classroom, the teacher was white. Now, there were a few Black lead teachers in the building, but the overwhelming majority of the staff was white. How was this the case when approximately 90% of the student population was Black? The thought of it really puzzled me and made me wonder why there were so many white teachers and so few Black ones. To delve even deeper into this issue, I also wondered why there were so few Black male teachers in urban schools.
Many urban school districts have tried to develop initiatives and supports in an effort to erase the education debt that exists for Black boys. There are so many factors that have contributed to this education debt that I would need to write another piece dedicated to that particular epidemic. But the one glaring factor that easily stuck out was the severe lack of Black male representation in the teaching profession.
So many Black boys aspire to be professional athletes or music artists because those are the very individuals within the community who represent success and have achieved the status of financial wealth. Also, young people are exposed to these professions on a regular basis, presented as the only way to get out of the ‘hood’ and be successful.
As a Black boy, if I see that the most successful Black men are professional athletes and musical artists, then naturally I’m going to pursue those career paths. But what if there were more Black male teachers in our schools and they were held in the same regard as those musicians and athletes? I’m pretty sure more young black boys would aspire to become educators.
A Black male teacher has the power to transform the lives of Black boys — and all other students — in the school system. I wanted to be that difference-maker for them. I figured, if they were exposed to more Black men who love to teach and want to have a positive impact in the classroom, then maybe they would seriously consider a career in teaching.
So, I started to view teaching as a realistic career option. I knew that teaching would place me in a position to nurture my love for children, and I couldn’t think of any other job that aligned more perfectly with my passion. Ultimately, I decided to become a teacher because I wanted to show my students, particularly my Black and brown students, that you can be a successful Black man without having to pursue a professional career in athletics or entertainment.
As I mentioned in a previous post, we need Black teachers in our schools because they serve as mirrors for Black students. For so many students of color, they don’t start honoring and believing in themselves until they see mirrors of who they can grow up to be standing in the front of the classroom. What’s even more important is that our students are telling us #WeNeedBlackTeachers! But what can we do about it right now?
This Thursday — September 9 — we can raise awareness by joining in a youth-led day of action for Black educators. Let’s take to social media and share our stories on the importance of Black educators. Let’s help our youth revolutionize education so that all students may benefit from the presence of more Black educators in the classroom.
The bottom line is that the future of our education system is in jeopardy without the presence of Black teachers. At a time where civil and racial unrest is pervading our society, our Black students need to have Black teachers who can relate to them and create space for them to feel comfortable showing up as their authentic selves in the classroom and beyond.