Can Black Men Afford to Teach? We Can’t Afford for Them Not To.

For the record, I’m not certain teachers can really afford to teach if speaking in terms of financial compensation.  After spending so much time criticizing the limited representation of teachers of color, especially males (1.81% nationally), in New Orleans schools, I’ve had to seriously question whether or not teaching is even a career that would allow black men to adequately take care of their families, as society subscribes men to do.

A recent report concluded a significant reduction in the probability of high school dropout of economically disadvantaged males occurred when black male teachers are assigned to black male students during grades 3-5. Persistent inequities within our culturally diverse and nationally attractive city, make our schools more than just an engine for the instruction of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Our schools are home. Our staff is family. Both, often providing the basic needs (food, security, belongingness, etc.) that some students, unfortunately, are unable to receive from their families within their homes due to varying circumstances.  More often than not, we immediately respond to the oppression of black women within our society, frequently overlooking the stress black males experience based upon the expectation(s) to carry the weight of the world because men are supposed to be strong. This shows up in our society either as men financially supporting the household or physically responsible for laborious tasks or emotionally bearing the burden of the fear and pain associated with just being a black man in America, especially within the country’s current racial climate of overt injustice and racism.

As stated in an NEA TODAY report, “Where Are All the Black Male Teachers?”, featuring African American first-grade teacher Robert Ellis’(CA) and Latinx math teacher José Luis, Vilson’s(NYC) there are concerns on the limited representation of educators of color and compensation:

He is a believer that teaching is still noble work. But when the conversation turns to teacher salaries, he can understand their reluctance. Since becoming a teacher, Ellis has learned to live frugally and take in occasional renters to make ends meet. It’s what makes doing the work he loves possible. In society, money matters, says Vilson, whose mother wonders why he doesn’t leave teaching to become a computer programmer, a job that would pay him more.

Much like my impact as a woman of color within schools where the staff demographic is predominately made up of white women, it doesn’t take long for these men to establish and build rapport and trust with students, particularly students who struggle behaviorally and/or academically and support them in achieving more opportunities for success.  If representation is too limited, the likelihood of becoming exhausted from the expectations to provide so much support to so many students can result in walking away from a career that is vital to our youth and community.

Our black and brown men face and overcome insurmountable odds and their journeys need to be shared and connected to students of color to aid in their growth and development. They need to be supported by school networks and leaders in order for this to not just happen, but to persist. Additionally, black males need to be recognized as more than behavior interventionists and/or paraprofessionals, because quite often, the male presence is often desired to act as a disciplinarian for misbehavior.

Limited support to foster these professionals is why local education recruitment organizations like Brothers Empowered to Teach BE2T are so critical to our community.

BE2T’s mission:

We recruit people of color–particularly black men–to explore careers in education, utilizing a formula that tackles the two key factors that keep black men from such a path. As much as 33% of college-bound black men will drop out by sophomore year. Of those who go on to graduate, they are not considering the teacher programs that are available because they do not resonate with them and they are too short and insufficient in preparing teachers that are culturally competent and content strong. We have to concurrently attach them to school, working with kids, and train them to be incredible teachers.

I have recently had an opportunity to see some fellows’ engagement with my students, and their presence and impact is felt immediately. As math instructor, Douglas Butler of L.B. Landry- O.P. Walker College and Career Preparatory High School in New Orleans explained to me,

I believe men can afford to teach because teaching is bigger than reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Teaching from a male’s perspective enhances the craft with survival skills. What I like to call, How To: How to provide for your family.  How to protect your identity. How to pay bills. How to raise a child. And lastly, how to be a better man in America.”

Until politicians and schools make improvements in teachers’ compensation and support,

perhaps, what one may lack in compensation and support, can be gained through the satisfaction of the output of necessary service work within a community where our future leaders need it the most.

Click here to read more about BE2T and their efforts within the community.


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