Diversity advocates say more blacks are needed in the classroom


When Jamaal Grant was studying biology at Colby College in Maine, a friend asked him if he would be interested in teaching after graduation.

Grant had planned to go to graduate school and pursue a career in science, but in need of a job, he decided to teach science at a charter school in Boston.

During his two years of teaching, he realized he had found his calling. His students, mostly black and some without father figures at home, often come to him for advice on family challenges, career and life choices, and even sports topics. They trust him.

“I felt like I was needed in that field,” said Grant, now an eighth-grade science teacher in Boston Public Schools. “I was there and I felt like ‘These kids need me.’ I felt like every day was worth it.”

Eighth grade science teacher Jamaal Grant sits in a classroom for a photo at Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Boston, Mass., March 16, 2023.

Black male teachers like Grant are underrepresented in schools across the country, the data show.

According to the National Survey of Teachers and Principals, only 1.3 percent of public school teachers were Black men in the 2020-21 school year. White women made up 61 percent of public school teachers that school year. Meanwhile, black children made up 15 percent of public school students in the fall of 2020.

Advocates say blacks are desperately needed in teaching as the nation’s school system grapples with unfair disciplinary practices, achievement gaps and politics over black history classes. Experts say black male teachers help improve academic achievement, including graduation rates for black students.

A new national study is published in the peer-reviewed journal Early Education and Development Children taught by teachers of the same ethnicity were found to develop better learning and problem-solving skills by the age of seven. The study found that black and Latino children were disproportionately affected.

Advocates say black male teachers are role models for young black students.

The role model is that of Johnathan Hines to his pre-kindergarten students at Barack Obama’s Magnet Technology Elementary School in Atlanta.

Hines played professional basketball overseas and has taught preschool for nine years. He said many of his middle and high school students regularly come back to tell him what a difference he has made in their lives.

For some, he is a father figure. Hines said one of his former students even recalled helping them when they lost their first tooth.

Johnathon Hines plays with his preschool students on March 13, 2023.

In 2019, Hines became the first Black person to be named Georgia Preschool Teacher of the Year.

He currently serves as an ambassador for Literacy Lab’s Leading Men Fellowship, helping the organization recruit black male teachers.

“I want to show other men that it’s possible and that the field needs you,” Hines said. “I see the impact I’m making every day…just by being there and being there.”

Some black male teachers say their presence in the classroom helps overcome stereotypes of black males in children, whether black or white. Several studies have found that black male teachers are seen as strict disciplinarians and are often asked to punish students.

Grant said it was critical that schools have a diverse teaching population of black men, including those who are rowdy, conservative, straight and gay.

“Darkness is not a monolith,” Grant said. “It’s important to have a variety of people in front of children because it broadens their horizons. A lot of times in the inner city, their world can easily become smaller.”

Some nonprofits say the biggest challenges to recruiting more black men to teach are low pay, racial bias in the school system and retention rates.

Robert Hendricks III, founder of the He Is Me Institute, a Boston-based organization that recruits and trains blacks as teachers, said that in many cases blacks were not welcome in school systems as students or teachers. Black and brown students face harsher discipline than their white classmates, research shows. For example, one study found that black children were referred to law enforcement and arrested at higher rates than white children for school-related incidents.

Hendricks said some black male teachers have faced the same racial bias, including greater scrutiny from non-black school officials and criminalization of their actions.

“The way teachers and school leaders respond to black boys is not very different from the way they respond to black male teachers,” Hendricks said. “Misunderstandings, miscommunications, inability to communicate, all of these are very similar.”

Hendricks said he believes more black men would be in teaching jobs if school environments were more equitable and provided the support black men need to succeed as students and professionals. Salary is also a concern for some, he said. The national average salary for a public school teacher is about $65,000.

“We unfairly tell men that they’re supposed to be the breadwinners,” Hendricks said. “But a career like teaching doesn’t give them the opportunity to support their families financially.”

Jamaal Grant is seen teaching his final class of the day on March 16, 2023.

In order to develop black male teachers, recruitment and clinical experience must begin at an earlier age, said Sherif Elmaki, founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educational Development.

El-Mekki’s organization provides year-round mentoring, professional development, and teaching experience to Black high school and college students interested in teaching careers.

He also said school leaders did not encourage many black male students to pursue teaching jobs. Therefore, when educational groups try to recruit them after college, many are not interested in the field.

“Black boys … they constantly get messages that you don’t belong, you’re a criminal, you’re not smart, you’re the problem here,” El-Mekki said. “They’re actually demeaned in the education system, so why would they want to be teachers?”

For black men who become teachers, El-Mekki said he would like to see schools do more to retain them.

Consider, “How do you support them, how will they say they are supported?” El-Mekki said. “With retention programs that are black-informed, we are more likely to succeed in recruiting more black people into the industry.”

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