A colleague of mine and I were talking a few weeks ago and he mentioned something to me to which I’d previously not given much thought. He, a Black male educator, stated that Black children need more exposure to Black teachers as early in their academic careers as possible in order to give them a better chance of achieving excellence. I’m not an elementary school teacher so I’d never thought about it, but his comments struck a chord in me and pushed me to do some research to see if other scholars had data to substantiate his experiential findings.
Sure enough, I found some good stuff!
The New Observer profoundly articulates that,
Black male students are more likely to graduate high school if they have at least one African-American teacher in third, fourth, or fifth grade, a new study found.
Using data from North Carolina, researchers found that low-income black male students’ chances of dropping out declined 39 percent and their interest in going to college increased 29 percent when they had at least one black teacher in the later elementary school years.
What’s so special about Black teachers? Why do Black students in particular benefit when they have a Black teacher? I can speak as the Black mother of a Black student under the rare tutelage of a Black teacher, as the Black mother of two children who now attend institutions of higher education, and as a Black teacher of Black and Brown students. I say this: without a shadow of a doubt, Black teachers hold Black students to a higher standard than a non-Black teacher would.
As I make this statement, my son’s kindergarten teacher Miss Molenar comes to mind.
My children and I attended the same elementary school for kindergarten. During my time in that school (K-6), I never had a Black teacher. Miss Molenar was the first one I’d seen hired in over twenty-five years. My son flourished under her tutelage. She was the first teacher to recognize him as being gifted and talented and started him on a trajectory for academic greatness and success that most Black boys never experience from their teachers in school. (Usually it is their coaches who possess this influence.) She saw something in my baby, called it by its rightful name (excellence), and cheered him on as he strove to achieve it. Fifteen years later and he’s on a full-academic scholarship at Howard University. Miss Molenar can take some credit for that.
Seeing someone who looks like you do something great is motivating. That’s a universal truth. Black children don’t get to experience this via Black teachers. That is a disservice.
I’m a staunch advocate for the hiring of more Black teachers for so many reasons and I will continue to write about this until I begin to see the need fulfilled in classrooms throughout this country. Strategically placing Teachers of Color throughout elementary school grades is a big piece of the educational equity puzzle. Once solved, this will help our nation heal and, in the words of MLK, Jr., “live out the true meaning of its creed.”