Less than seven percent of public school teachers across the United States are Black, notably less than the 15 percent of Black students who attend public schools, Devna Bose reported for the Hechinger Report in November 2022. The dearth of Black teachers is “deeply felt,” Bose wrote, “especially in states like South Carolina where almost a fifth of students are Black.” Bose’s article cited research showing that the presence of Black teachers can lead to “improved academic performance and higher graduation rates” for Black students.
Nevertheless, Bose reported, a variety of social factors have been driving “teachers of all demographic backgrounds” out of the field, including low wages, increased public scrutiny, micromanagement, and other issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Black male teachers and teachers from other underrepresented groups have been particularly impacted.
Bose reported examples of Black male teachers who have been overlooked for promotions and leadership roles, or “pigeonholed into disciplinarian roles.” Galvanized by the rise of groups such as Moms for Liberty, many white parents have also begun to target Black educators for supposedly teaching Critical Race Theory. There are also national tests for teachers that were “deliberately created to prevent people of color from becoming teachers.”
The underrepresentation of Black teachers has negative impacts on Black students. Noting that, across the nation, Black boys are overassigned to special education, Bose wrote that Black teachers are less likely to misinterpret Black male students’ emotions and behavior, for example. The ability to “connect on a deeper level” can reduce the likelihood that Black students have “adverse educational experiences.”
The challenge, Bose noted, is cyclical: When students see school as a negative space and are repeatedly, unfairly penalized for behavioral infractions not experienced by their white peers, they may be less likely to see teaching as a future profession, thereby perpetuating the cycle. The absence of Black male teachers gives the impression to young Black boys that this profession is difficult to access.
A March 2021 report for NEA Today by Sundjata Sekou corroborated many of the points made in Devna Bose’s article for the Hechinger Report. Drawing on his own experiences as a Black student and as a third-grade math and science teacher, Sekou wrote that the lack of Black male teachers “affects every student, but it affects Black boys disproportionately.” In the context of a racist society that “applauds [Black boys’] athletic abilities yet shuns their intellectual capabilities,” most Black male students find themselves in classrooms with “teachers who may not understand them,” Sekou reported. He vowed to become “the teacher he never had.”
The importance of Black teachers in public schools has been given only limited coverage by major US news outlets. For example, in December 2019, the Washington Post reported that public schools across the country were becoming “move diverse,” but teachers are “mostly white.” The in-depth article noted the “gap students and teachers” and examined some of the same factors identified in Bose’s article for the Hechinger Report. And, in January 2019, the Chicago Tribune published a profile of a first-year Black teacher in the Chicago public school system. This article addressed the importance of Black students having Black teachers, and it also noted that Black teachers “tend to burn out more frequently than their white counterparts.” But reports such as these are exceptional and, overall, major news outlets have failed to address these issues.
Source: Devna Bose, “Schools Can’t Afford to Lose Any More Black Male Educators,” The Hechinger Report, November 23, 2022.
Student Researchers: Andrew Hill, Brigid Murray, Bryce Souza (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)