As children, most of our time is spent in a classroom learning the fundamentals before we are ready to go out into the world. Spending so much time with our teachers allowed for bonds to be created and life-changing influence to happen. For many of us, it’s because our favorite teacher made college seem possible and our dreams seem attainable.
For me, it was Evelyn Mobley, a tall black woman who was my 7th-grade teacher at Ralph J. Bunche Middle School in Atlanta. Seeing a strong black woman with a voice encouraged me to find my own. She was my role model and the reason why my tuition at Tennessee State University was covered. Unfortunately, not many children will get the same experience I had. It’s not because there are no longer any Mrs. Mobleys in the classroom, it’s because there aren’t enough Mrs. Mobley’s in the classroom.
Federal data tells us that 83 percent of teachers in this country are white and 75 percent of teachers are female. So where does that leave the young men who are in need of a male version of my experience? Well, according to that same data, Black male educators are approximately less than 2 percent of the teaching population in public schools. Minority students are the majority inside of classrooms, but they have a hard time finding a teacher that looks like them and can identify with their personal issues. This could be the reason why black students are four times more likely to be suspended and are shortchanged across the board.
There’s a great need for more black teachers in the classroom, especially black men. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans fired almost all of its black teachers, a decision that now haunts the struggling charter schools. One of the few black teachers in New Orleans, Raven Foster, recalls what a student told her about having a black teacher:
“I heard a student say, ‘Ms. Foster, I can’t get away with stuff with you because you’re black, but I can with this teacher because she’s white,'” said Foster.
Based on her interactions with students, Foster soon realized that black students wanted a teacher who looked like them, came from where they came from and understood how they lived. Black teachers held black students more accountable and invested in them by caring about things such as their behavior.
There are programs popping up across the country to change the demographics in classrooms. Programs such as ‘Call Me Mister‘ at Clemson University are working to increase the number of minority teachers in the classroom. There are also fellowship programs offered through Kipp that partner with HBCUs to recruit future teachers. As these programs continue the hard task of recruiting and helping to certify black teachers, we have to provide support in any way possible.
Dr. Larry J. Walker explained to Ebony the power of a black teacher:
“Black men who are teachers help to challenge the stereotypes that we are angry, dangerous and not willing to make sacrifices to improve conditions within the Black community. More than half of the Black teachers who work in public schools today earned their degree from an HBCU, and so they play an important role helping Black students graduate with bachelors, masters and graduate degrees in highly coveted areas including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). While there is a dire need for more Black men in classrooms, Black women have always played a pivotal role teaching, mentoring and collectively shaping the lives of students from diverse backgrounds,” Walker said.
Simply put, black teachers are black excellence personified, and when our kids see them in a classroom, they see that anything is possible.
Even if you aren’t meant to teach, you can still support the movement of getting more black teachers in the classroom. Until we make our classrooms more diverse, you can still serve as a mentor.
Let’s not allow the lack of representation inside the classroom be a determining factor in the future of our black youth. Every black child deserves an Evelyn Mobley, and it’s our job to either be that for them or find someone who can.
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