Black Teachers Are Staying In Schools, Even Though Some Of You Are Playing In Our Faces

Black teachers are special.

Thankfully, we have the data that backs up that truth. Not that the words of students and parents aren’t enough. But for some, data is the most meaningful; subjective at best but I digress. Education Week highlighted the data that exposes the positive impact of Black teachers, specifically in the academic success of Black students:

“Black students are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college when they have just one Black teacher in elementary school. Black students are also more likely to be placed in gifted education programs if they have a Black teacher, and are less likely to receive suspensions, expulsions, or detentions. Black teachers tend to have higher expectations for Black students than white teachers.”

An equally reliable source detailing the impact of Black teachers is Black people themselves. I know of the impact Black teachers have on Black students. It’s because I’ve had Black teachers who impacted my life. In Kindergarten, I had a Black teacher. Because of Ms. Wilson, I took first-grade language arts literacy in Kindergarten, because she didn’t neglect my abilities where others may have.

But I also know the impact because my students have communicated the same about me. So, when I speak or write about the impact Black teachers have on students, specifically Black students, I speak from experience as a former Black student and a current Black teacher.

What is the reason for our impact? It has a lot to do with our approach to education and our attitude entering the classroom. A new report helps illuminate that. An EdWeek State of Teaching Survey found that while white teachers have a morale score of -13 (same as the overall teacher morale score), teachers of two or more races have a morale score of -14, and Hispanic teachers have one of -6, Black teachers have a morale score of +5.

Why? How come Black teachers have a positive view of teaching versus their non-Black counterparts? According to Dr. Travis Bristol, an associate professor of teacher education and education policy at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Education:

“I suspect those Black teachers are bringing with them 400 years of belief and hope that so long as we are doing the work, life for our students will get better even if we don’t see it, [just as] our ancestors believed that even if we don’t see freedom, it will come.”

Sharif El-Mekki, executive director of the Center for Black Educator Development said, “When you feel like you’re contributing something mightily to a group of people who you identify with, who you share a cultural background with, … it gives you hope, it gives you inspiration.”

An EdWeek Research Center Survey found that “Black teachers were significantly more likely to say that they are respected and seen as professional by the general public— at 79%, compared to 50% of Hispanic teachers and 53% of white teachers.” In short, Black teachers view their careers more positively than other teachers and feel respected in the role of teacher. This is no surprise to Dr. Bristol, who said “Black teachers, Black professionals are revered.”

As for teachers of color overall, a survey by Educators for Excellence found that “teachers of color were more likely than teachers in general to say that the profession is dynamic, rewarding, collaborative, sustainable, and diverse.”

Last year, I wrote a piece for Education Week detailing why Black teachers stay in the classroom. While I speak to the challenges Black teachers face, e.g. the invisible tax, isolationism in their buildings, and battle fatigue over challenges to teaching Black history, I spoke about the superseding reason we remain in schools.

“We stay because we’re vital to the frontline battle to, in the words of Paulo Freire, liberate both ourselves and our oppressor through education. The content we teach then becomes a tool for young people to make communities more equitable and just spaces for all… for those of us who remain in the classrooms, with each lesson we teach, whether about the U.S. Constitution or about the least common denominator, we teach young people the skills they need to both navigate and change the world.

I and my colleagues are proud to be part of an intellectual tradition dating back to enslavement, where our ancestors used knowledge to free both body and mind in a country designed for their physical and mental destruction. This tradition continued into the early 20th century where the doctrine of separate but “equal” didn’t prevent Black teachers from empowering future leaders of the civil rights movement through teaching them reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

Teachers are undervalued and underappreciated, by educators and non-educators alike; Black teachers even more so. Thankfully for us (Black teachers), we don’t derive our morale from the spaces one would assume. Our purpose for our work, and the morale to maintain it, is inspired by history and the community… and the community has always been part of our history.

Our history is one of engaging in teaching and learning for our liberation as a people. We taught and we learned in community. For example, Dr. Carter G. Woodson learned from his uncles who were educated in freedmen schools… schools rooted in Black people teaching reading and writing during enslavement to liberate African people in bondage.

Dr. Woodson used his education to liberate the minds of Black children by equipping their Black teachers—with his resources from ASALH. Many of those students, students who could recount Negro History Week rituals and activities, would go on to become activists, politicians, and educators themselves, people like Angela Davis: a scholar-activist whose life and lessons continue to educate students to this very day.

Black educators are part of that tradition, where memory links our present to our past to plant seeds for the future. The planters of those seeds are held in high esteem in the community. This is history and a tradition that schools can’t provide Black teachers. This is a tradition that keeps Black teachers in the classroom. It’s a tradition that keeps the morale high amongst Black teachers… Because Black teachers understand that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

The takeaway from this has less to do with Black teachers and more to do with everyone else. Seeing that Black teachers feel better about the work they do because their inspiration comes from a deeper place, it is important that schools and district leadership do everything that they can to fight for and on behalf of Black teachers. That means fighting for more pay, eliminating the invisible tax, protecting the teaching of Black history, and hiring more Black teachers for schools.

It’s been way past time that we support Black teachers. We’re gonna do our jobs and exceed our job description despite you. But that’s no excuse to fail in supporting us.


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