The African-American community has a long and impressive history of producing skilled educators. Even during the dark years of slavery, Black people overcame numerous obstacles to earn college degrees and dedicated their lives to educating Black children.
NewsOne recently celebrated that legacy by highlighting the accomplishments of 10 Black educators.
At this critical moment, there’s a shortage of Black teachers who are prepared to teach effectively in urban schools.
A 2016 U.S. Department of Education report, titled The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce, said 18 percent of educators are people of color at a time when students of color are a majority in public schools. Black males represent just 2 percent of the teacher workforce.
Part of the challenge is that Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in teacher preparation programs. According to the Education Department’s report, they make up just 25 percent of students in college education programs.
Andre Perry, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University, writes in The Hechinger Report that the majority of universities “aren’t built to recruit from Black communities.”
He adds: “Recruiting teachers of color is hard because the units in universities that are charged specifically for marketing and recruitment aren’t positioned and staffed to recruit African-Americans and Latinos. Many colleges still have a sole multicultural recruiter.”
Historically Black Colleges and Universities, from their inception, play a significant role in recruiting and training Black educators. The Education Department said HBCUs are training a “significant percentage” of the nation’s Black educators. They train just 2 percent of the nation’s teachers overall but 16 percent of African-American teaching candidates.
Dr. Dawn Williams, interim dean of Howard University’s School of Education, told NewsOne that Howard focused primarily on “training preachers and teachers” when it originated.
Howard, celebrating its 150th anniversary, is “unapologetically training educators to teach in urban schools,” Williams stated. The urban environment, she added, is where they are most needed.
Black teachers serve as role models in classrooms and connect culturally with Black students.
“It’s important for students of color to have role models who look like them and share common experiences,” former Education Secretary John King stated when his department released its teacher diversity report.
“It’s just as important for all students to see teachers of color in leadership roles in their classrooms and communities,” King continued
Williams said she had only one Black teacher in the first through 12th grades, who was a music teacher but none in the major subject areas.
“To not see the intellectual authority in the classroom had an impact on me,” stated Williams, who earned her bachelor’s degree at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. “I definitely wanted to go to an HBCU for college.”
Perry stated that students are more likely to pursue a teaching career if they had positive experiences in school.
“Unfortunately, schools are a negative flashpoint in many Black children’s lives” he writes. “In addition, a lack of school quality makes it more difficult for aspiring teachers to meet the ever-increasing academic requirements to enroll in programs. Students’ educational experiences will influence future career decisions.”
Williams said the data shows that most Black teachers work in high-needs communities because “they choose to go there.”
She described the students enrolled in Howard’s education program as “change agents,” who often return to teach in the community where they were reared. That sense of mission, of making a difference, is what motivates education students at HBCUs.
Historically, there has been a special relationship between parents and educators in the Black community. Williams, who began her career as a second-grade public school teacher, recalled that parents trusted her to discipline their children, but she always declined.
Howard’s program emphasizes the importance to its students that they become part of the community where they teach.
Training and mentoring continue after graduation. The school created a program called “Community of Practice” to help its graduates manage the challenges they encounter in the first few years of teaching, when many novice educators burnout and quit the profession.
Community of Practice is a virtual mentorship community in which the professors stay connected with students. It gives graduates the assurance that their instructors are still in their corner to provide advice.
Community of Practice also gives feedback to Howard professors who tweak the curriculum and training methods, based on the experiences of the recent graduates.
Located in the nation’s capital, Howard’s education students benefit from the program’s partnerships with K-12 schools located in the metropolitan area of the District of Columbia’s African-American community.
Howard’s graduates, Williams said, are a source of teachers, principals, counselors and psychologists for school districts across the nation that recognize the value of a diverse teacher workforce.