I did not have a class with a black male teacher until my junior year in high school. This might not seem alarming to most, but to a young black boy yearning for positive male role models, this could have been damaging in my formative years. Thankfully, I had many positive male role models to choose from outside of school.
Transitions of any kind at any age can be difficult, and if not done right, damaging. When it comes to young boys of color, their development is often stifled by the lack of positive male role models. This also applies to those young men who are fortunate to have their fathers at home. The transition from boyhood to manhood is made more difficult when boys do not have a positive example of a man who has successfully made that transition. There is a blueprint, and not everyone has it.
Our young people model the negative and positive traits they see in the adults they spend the most time. Often, the adults they interact with most are school teachers. A looming teacher shortage exaggerates this lack of positive male models for our young boys of color. That is not to say that a custodian, bus driver, or coach cannot also be a positive role model for our boys. Unfortunately, we miss an opportunity to have that role filled by a teacher they will spend 1,260 hours with a year.
On average, students spend at least 1,260 hours with their teachers each school year. To build the active, engaged, thoughtful, life-long learners, we endeavor to make the generation to come, we must make sure they see themselves in the people who embody those traits. Most often, their teachers reflect what they wish to become. There are some steps we have to take to ensure more of our students don't have to survive formative years without role models they can emulate and glean positive traits.
Remove the Stigma
There is an unspoken stigma around being a teacher that says black males don't fit the role of a teacher; this is especially true for elementary school educators as black men are often not seen as nurturing. Elementary school years are of the most important for students as these formative years lay the foundation for student success or struggle for all students. If we remove the stigma that black males don't fit the role of the nurturing elementary school teacher, we will ensure more young black boys have role models with which they will spend over 1,260 hours annually. They will have the fortune of having extensive interactions with teachers that reflect who they are and can become in the literal and figurative sense.
Make Teaching More Affordable
Aside from paying teachers what they are worth, we have to make the profession of teaching more affordable. We can do this by expanding student loan forgiveness programs, offering tax credits or tax-exempt status for teachers and supporting them with affordable housing options and expanded access to home loan programs.
Teacher Preparation Academies
One way we can curtail the teacher shortage is making teacher preparation programs available at more high schools while creating pathways to local universities. Over the past two years, I have had the pleasure of partnering with the Mountain View School District and Mountain View High School to provide their Teacher Preparation Academy students with opportunities to gain experience working with students while earning money towards stipends and scholarships for college. The next steps for this program include creating a pathway to local colleges where students receive credit for their work with elementary school students and move right into a career pathway that saves them money and time in school as well as provides job placement. This program, which is a finalist for a California School Board Association Golden Bell Award, features workshops around job training and financial literacy. Replication of this program and other teacher preparation programs directly impact the teacher shortage. In expanding such programs, we must reach out directly to black males.
Research says that young black male students perform better when they are taught by black male teachers; that is not to say they ought to be guided by only black male teachers. Great educators have a significant impact on students regardless of their race or ethnicity, but it would be ill-advised to ignore data that says our young black boys need more teachers that look like them. With enrollment in university-level teacher training programs declining, and teachers leaving the profession because of their inability to match their cost of living with their teaching salary, we need to do what we know will have the most significant impact now to secure a brighter future for all students, especially our most vulnerable. We can maximize the 1,260 hours our students spend with their teachers with opportunities for those hours to be spent building solid connections where students can model their behavior and aspirations after the people the often hold in the highest regard, their teachers.