Less than 2% of the teaching force consists of African American males. Where are we supposed to find black principals if there are no black teachers in our schools?Archie Moss Jr.
Over the past decade, the conversation has turned towards getting more Black males into the classroom. A study from the Journal of Early Childhood Education confirms that Black male teachers have a profound effect on the aspirations of Black children, more specifically, Black males. So with the research in hand, the will, and the know-how, why is the number of Black male educators entering the teaching profession stagnant and, in many cases, declining from the previous, disproportionately low numbers?
There is a massive amount of research to show that Black male teachers are beneficial to the education environment, and there is much speculation as to why Black male teachers are still underrepresented in classrooms across America. The barriers to entry into the teaching profession are numerous.
When I was an insurance broker, there was one significant point supervisors and managers used to recruit and retain talent — leadership opportunities. Speaking for myself, talented people will shy away from jobs or careers that do not offer upward mobility. And from my own personal experience, there are few available pathways to leadership, which is a deterrent for able Black men to choose teaching as a viable career option.
Black men want opportunities to lead and to have financial success.
Young, educated, or career-changing Black men want to excel while giving back to their communities.
Teaching is a noble profession, but let’s be honest … a modest salary, punching a clock, underrepresentation, perception as disciplinarians, and adversarial relationships with policymakers is not a recipe for attracting the best talent.
Black Educators Need More Leadership Opportunities
Our students deserve the best instructional leaders in front of them. If that happens to be Black male teachers, then we must set up pathways not just to attain but also to retain these educators. Supporting Black educators through the leadership process is a great way to retain these highly sought-after educators. Although race and ethnicity cannot be the sole factor in determining how teachers are recruited, hired, and promoted, we have to examine the dynamics as they are.
There are many steps on the road to school leadership where prospective leaders get lost because the supports are not in place. When I became a teacher, I knew I wanted to be a principal. Teaching was the way for me to get into education and to ultimately serve students in the capacity of a school leader. Unfortunately, there are only two routes to obtain this mid-level leadership position.
One can go the traditional route and obtain a bachelor’s degree in education, become a student-teacher, pass a battery of tests to get certified, get a job within a school district, teach for five years, then enroll in a master of education in school leadership program, complete an internship, graduate, and take another battery of tests to finally, “qualify” to work as a school principal.
There is absolutely no alternative route to earn principal or leadership certification in Pennsylvania, my home state, where you do not have to earn a master’s degree. The educational component seems wonderful for the profession until you realize the pay for teachers and administrators has actually declined in recent years.
PhillyPlus was an alternative route for principal candidates in the City of Philadelphia, but that program is no longer accepting applications. And there are only a few alternative programs across the state such as Relay Graduate School of Education, a graduate school that often partners with colleges to grant initial teacher certifications and principal certifications.
I was a career changer with a bachelor’s degree, so I chose the second route. I enrolled in TeachNOLA through The New Teacher Project (TNTP). I did a six-week pre-service teaching experience before I started teaching in a high needs school in New Orleans. After two successful years, I qualified to be certified. Unfortunately, for me, I failed one of the Praxis tests seven times and was flagged not to possess good moral character because of previous misdemeanor convictions from the late 1990s and early 2000s. This barrier to entry cost me thousands of dollars, many headaches, and much stress.
As I continued to teach and get different experiences from charter and district schools, I continued with my goal of becoming a principal. I completed a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, which does not qualify me to become a principal. There is a specific degree that must be obtained and that must be approved by the department of education for a particular state. So currently, I’m enrolled in a master’s degree program to receive my school building leadership certification from Teachers College Columbia University. I will be completing my internship at BB Comegys, a K-8 public school, in Southwest Philadelphia.
Oftentimes, Black males are used solely as disciplinarians in the most difficult schools, as I was expected to be. The idea that we need Black male teachers to be disciplinarians, but not for formal leadership roles is the message sent. This message is overt and, as such, many prospective Black male teachers will continue to take options outside of education. If Black males have no chance of breaking into leadership — if we don’t create the pathways — attracting and retaining the best talent will continue on its current path.