We need Black teachers. We also need Black administrators. The unfortunate truth is that the needs are competing not because of Black educators, but because of the white institutional spaces that control hiring.
Black teachers represent only 6% of all teachers nationwide; Black male teachers, less than 2% of all teachers nationwide. However, the percentage of Black administrators nationwide is 10%. In my home state of New Jersey, Black teachers make up 6% of all teachers, yet 15% of all administrators (and 12% of all supervisors).
Considering that administrators must have prior teaching experience, generally speaking, why is it that there are higher percentages of Black administrators than there are Black teachers? Is it because of pay? Educators can make in a few years what they would make over decades had they stayed in the classroom as a school administrator. Is it because Black teachers desire to leave the classroom? There is a population of teachers ready to leave the classroom, regardless of race.
Those are reasons why any teacher would consider leaving the classroom. But what about Black teachers? For Black teachers, it’s those reasons and more. The more includes the invisible tax, that is the extra costs associated with being a Black teacher—including being expected to over-discipline Black children, serve as a cultural and ethnic interpreter for white peers, and promote code-switching/Black respectability to Black children. The tax exhausts Black teachers out of the classroom. However, administration allows Black educators a path to leaving the classroom but not education altogether.
Another reason for leaving the classroom has to do with the tax in a different way. Black teachers with strong classroom management are often tapped to leave the classroom to run a school. A white superintendent once told me that his preference of principal leadership was a Black woman because of his perception of their command and ability to establish order. He basically thought Black women (Black people in general, but Black women specifically) made good wardens for [older] Black and Brown students.
Other reasons for Black teachers choosing the principal’s office over the classroom include believing one can have a greater impact, including replacing incompetence with competence, replacing stagnation with vision, or simply desiring to help teachers and students reach their highest potential. Some Black teachers do it to simply survive.
Again, the invisible tax on Black teachers drives them to leave. Not that Black administrators are without their challenges, but the role of administrator potentially offers Black educators an opportunity for establishing longevity in a school system in the ways remaining in the classroom used to in the past.
So, depending on the reason, choosing the office over the classroom sounds like a choice, it may not be a choice altogether. It’s a story for many Black educators, including myself.
I left the classroom because I was getting burnt out as a Black educator; one who is subject to the invisible tax, while at the same time, being tapped because of my strong classroom management. As an administrator, I understood the role, and I played my part well, but I missed the classroom. As a result, my current position is a more hybrid role where I can do administrative work as well as teach. I am fortunate. My colleagues may not be so lucky.
Make no mistake about it, Black educators are important, whether they are administrators or teachers. Black educators are needed, in the classroom as well as in the principal’s office. But it’s unfair some Black educators are forced into deciding between going into administration versus remaining in the classroom as a result of the inherently racist structure of schooling in America.
What should Black educators do? Should Black teachers remain in the classroom and fight against burnout as best as possible, or should they make a professional move that helps any career aspirations while affording them the chance to impact more people with their role?
Our decision should be made purely on where we believe we can make the greatest difference and have the most impact on behalf of children and families; specifically, Black children and Black families. But unfortunately, the stress of being a Black educator often dictates our next move as educators.
Maybe Black teachers are looking for a more Black-friendly space. Maybe Black teachers are looking to have more say-so in terms of what’s happening to Black children in their schools. Maybe Black teachers would like to have more of an influence over the pedagogy and instructional methods of their peer faculty members. Maybe Black teachers aren’t getting what they need as classroom teachers, and they wish to rectify this for both Black teachers and Black children.
But again, what should Black teachers do—those deciding between leaving the classroom for administration or to stay in the classroom? The answer is simple: give yourself the option to pivot. In basketball, when you pick up your dribble, the last foot that didn’t leave the ground becomes your pivot foot. With your pivot foot, you have options as opposed to remaining stagnant. You can pass or you can shoot.
Black educators must be ready to pass or shoot. If they pass the ball and get it right back, be ready to pass, shoot, dribble, or even pump fake.
What this means is be prepared to make a move to administration. So, go get your administrative certification so when you’re ready to make a move (even if not for long), you can. While an administrator, stay up on your content. Maybe get a degree (doctoral even) in your content area or in teaching and learning so if a return to the classroom is in your sights, you can make a return.
In addition to that, having experience on both sides (as a teacher and administrator) is priceless when operating in either role.
Black educators should be open to either option. Certainly, Black teachers don’t only choose to be in administration because of the racism they encounter as a classroom teacher. But the reality is that some do; more than most would anticipate. There are a number of Black teachers who want to be principals, and that’s wonderful.
But for as many Black educators seeking to become a career administrator, just as many are driven to the principalship, or some kind of education administrator position, as a result of the injustices they’ve encountered or witnessed while being a classroom teacher, that’s caused them to burn out.
No matter what Black educators choose, they must know their why.
You cannot become an administrator to escape teacher burnout. Administrators burn out too! Black administrators burn out as fast as Black teachers. Having the ability to move between roles is a professional advantage. However, Black educators, like every educator, must choose the role they’re driven to; the role where they can have the most impact; the role they’re most passionate about.
At the end of the day, more Black educators are needed in general, whether they be teachers or administrators. But in order to prevent burnout in either case, it’s best that Black educators are not married to either job, but rather married to the work and mission of educating Black children. That’ll keep you more than a professional title and the racist aggravation ever could.