Why Black, Male, Queer Teachers Are Essential In Solving Issues Of Representation In Schools
For those of us who are lucky enough to be out and proud in our schools, it is important to recognize our work in bringing up the next generation of thinkers and scholars.
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In this very first sentence, and very first line, y'all are getting the truth: I am a kindergarten teacher. I am a man. I am Black, and I am gay.
As the United States continues to navigate the trend of a shortage of male teachers, Black and queer teachers represent a small population of educators with great strides in student achievement. While trends show growth of the teaching force overall, Black teachers continue to show decreased numbers; national data shows that Black teachers are leaving the education field in record numbers, leaving the number of Black male teachers at an alarming 2%. Reasons of inadequate pay wages, school mismanagement and administrative disagreements, concerns about career growth, and concerns about making us strictly disciplinarians (deans, principals, etc.) as opposed to keeping us in the classroom, are just one of the many reasons why Black male teachers are leaving the field.
It is impossible to determine exactly how many Black and queer teachers are in the classroom, but the overall stance is that a presence of a Black male teacher leads to greater educational outcomes in general. Studies show that the effect of having a Black male teacher, especially in elementary school, decreases the dropout rate among Black male students by 30% and also increases the likelihood of Black students earning higher education degrees. Nonetheless, the changing landscape of inclusion for LGBTQ+ individuals of society has not translated into our classrooms.
The statistics surrounding issues of students being bullied who are known and/or are believed to be LGBTQ+ is not new, nor is having LGBTQ+ teachers in schools. The difference, however, is that as more and more schools are purposely-hiring Black and LGBTQ+ teachers, students’ efficacy and sense of positive identity increases, leading to higher instances of school autonomy (a general interest to be in school), higher grades and college attendance. Having Black, male, queer teachers in schools is a social justice issue aimed at providing students with qualified and dedicated adults rooting for their success.
Yet, nationally there is no official statistic to determine how many teachers identify as LGBTQ+. Ongoing prevalent concerns over school and workplace harassment, antiquated and false-correlations between being LGBTQ+ and pedophilia, and the fact that there are currently 15 states in America where someone can be fired for outwardly expressing (or being suspected of) being LGBTQ+, it is unsurprising that no one knows for sure how many Black, male, queer teachers exist.
For those of us who are lucky enough to be out and proud in our schools, it is important to recognize our work in bringing up the next generation of thinkers and scholars. Even for those who are not outwardly expressive of their sexuality and/or gender, our work is not without challenges. Having to deal with keeping our identities separate until proven safe to do otherwise is just one of our many issues. Concerns over lack of representation in our schools make us anomalies — in part disposable, in part necessary for meeting diversity quotas.
To be clear, getting more Black teachers is not enough. Getting more Black, male teachers is not enough. Schools have to be purposeful in vetting who they hire, and not merely hire teachers based on demographics alone.
Choosing this profession sometimes means coming face-to-face with other Black educators who share white supremacist, namely heteronormative, hypermasculine and/or femmephobic beliefs about sexuality, gender and education. When a Black gay, male teacher steps into a classroom, almost innately we do so with a social justice target on our backs. We have to deal with hearing the subsequently disparaging words, “man up,” aimed at our Black boys if they are crying after falling on the playground, or “boys don’t wear pink” on dress-down days. It is all very disturbing to hear this rhetoric coming from teachers that look like us; “all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk'' applies so loudly and clearly in this case. It is not at all easy to be the token social justice pioneer; schools should be thankful for what we do.
Our work is pushing teaching forward to ensure that our Black and brown students are receiving instruction relevant to an ever-changing cultural and social landscape, in which LGBQ+ members are more widely accepted into a society deemed wrongly as mainstream. Considering that our culture greatly influences the mainstream, indubitably our influence in the classroom helps students to fulfill their educational potential, while also dismantling the varying stigmas that have held so many of our most gifted students back. If one wants an example of positive outcomes from including LGBTQ+ people in school settings, just look at the data showing that schools that have LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum have resulted in both lesser dropout rates, and lesser instances of bullying and school-related violence.
Nevertheless, and after all of that, in many states, these dedicated instructors’ decision to be honest about their sexual and/or gender experience can damage their entire career trajectory. Firings and ostracizing in the education fields lock a powerful population of the teaching force. After the large numbers of educators willingly leaving the profession because of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the nation, schools need to think about how they are going to revitalize and reverse the scarcity of Black male teachers. That means making schools welcoming, gracious and grateful to us Black, male, queer teachers who place both our professional and personal lives on the frontlines every single day for our students.
Our Black students and their families deserve all of the love and support of any adult that is willing to extend it to them. Considering how powerful we are, utilizing those of us who are about shutting down the status quo to increase Black student successes sounds like a good idea. We certainly are not solving all of the problems, but we are the ones at least helping to save America’s schools.