Black Male Educators Have Sounded the Alarm, But Will We Listen?

Sep 9, 2019 12:00:00 AM

by Kimberly Underwood, Ph.D.

For years, Black males have been underrepresented in P-12 education. While there have been many efforts to diversify classrooms by adding more Black male educators, there are still obstacles to successfully reach this goal. Now, these educators are speaking up and their voices are sounding the alarm for education diversity.

To capture these voices, I led a team of research fellows from the University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion Research. We interviewed Outstanding Black Male Fellows from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) to critically examine the career trajectories of Black male educators from three perspectives: 

  • Recruitment
  • Retention
  • Mobility

Their poignant voices were published in a joint white paper entitled, “Having Our Say: Examining Career Trajectories of Black Male Educators in P-12 Education.”

While the paper spotlighted their valuable insights, observations and opinions, voices alone won’t increase the representation of Black males in the classroom. We hope to use the Fellows’ insights to provide recommendations for future initiatives, models and actions supporting Black males in education.

Diversifying Our Nation’s Classrooms

The voices of these Black educators demonstrate that a diverse and inclusive workforce within P-12 education is critical to ensuring that our nation’s students receive a robust, quality education. Dr. J. Medgar Roberts was an author of the paper and NNSTOY contributor. His story is a great example of the impact of diversity in today’s classrooms.

A year into Dr. Roberts’ teaching career, he found himself as the sole Black male core content teacher at his school after a legendary career math teacher retired. He would soon learn that this was a trend in P-12 education. In his 25 years teaching middle and high school, the most Black male colleagues he had was around 15—out of a staff of more than 300. And that number is highly unusual. 

A special story recently emerged regarding Dr. Roberts. After changing schools and moving more than 150 miles away, a former student—a young Black male graduate of the class of 2019 whom Dr. Roberts never taught in the classroom—thanked Dr. Roberts for his mentorship and support during convocation. The young man is an aspiring educator and Dr. Roberts was the teacher at the school who understood his situation. Though Dr. Roberts did not intentionally enter the role of mentor, he happily embraces that role—because representation matters.

Now the assistant principal at a middle school in Texas, the University of Phoenix alumnus makes it clear that he never bemoaned being one of a few Black male teachers—in fact, he embraced it. The challenge of “being himself” and not feeling responsible for taking up the podium to speak on behalf of all Black male teachers was difficult at first. But, he credits it for keeping him in education to help the students who need his perspective. 

Dr. Roberts’ experience is reflected in the voices many of the NNSTOY Fellows we spoke with. They point out that [pullquote]there continue to be consistent and prevalent challenges to diversifying the teaching population within education reform efforts.[/pullquote] The paper focused on three primary theories for why Black male educators are necessary in the classroom. 

  • Black educators—with a specific focus on Black male educators—have a positive impact on children of all races and the teaching profession as a whole, with many noting that the lack of a diversified teacher workforce continues to undermine egalitarianism within society through the reinforcement of persevering social inequalities and inequities.

While schools of thought may vary surrounding the benefits of Black male representation in education, there is an overarching level of agreement: The lack of Black males in teaching positions has serious implications in classroom settings and diversification needs to be a continuing priority within educational reform efforts.

Attempts to Fix the Leaky Classroom Pipeline

For Black males, underrepresentation continues to plague those who seek to increase the presence of Black males in classrooms across the nation. Our research found that Black male teachers often note similarities within their experiences once entering school settings. Overall, Black teachers are often recruited to teach in schools serving large populations of students of color, many plagued with a lack of resources and high teacher turnover rates.

Those who become teachers often face difficulties with teacher preparation programs that frequently become barriers to teacher certification. In addition, they face challenges with standardized testing, instances of racism, marginalization and isolation—all of which often have serious implications.

Though not suggesting this as an absolute, NNSTOY Fellows related inequitable teaching conditions, the lack of peer and leadership support, unrealistic accountability expectations and scarce resources as common experiences when entering a new school setting. All these factors are creating a “leaky” classroom pipeline that is further hindering diversity in classrooms. [pullquote position="right"]We must take action to ensure that these obstacles are eliminated and ensure that Black males have a clearer path to education careers.[/pullquote] 

Taking Action

Increasing the Black male teacher representation in schools across the nation requires strategic planning, including collaborative efforts at the national, state, district and local school levels. A long-term commitment of resources and continuous championing for the diversity of our nation’s classrooms remains the most promising way to effectively staff Black male educators within schools and create a seamless voyage through this career trajectory within the teaching profession.

To combat obstacles to recruiting, retaining and advancing Black male educators, there is an obligation for policymakers and school administrators to examine and implement sustainable initiatives aimed at creating inclusive, equitable and supportive school environments where all can thrive. 

On Friday, September 20, University of Phoenix will host a roundtable webinar focused on further examining diversifying P-12 education. Following the conference, the UOPX Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research will focus on a yearlong research project, examining the socialization experiences of Black male educators in our nation’s classrooms.

This continued research creates opportunities to strategically challenge many of the persistent stereotypes of Black men—and all people of color—within society. It is time their voices are heard.
A version of this post originally appeared on EdSurge as Why America Needs More Black Male Teachers.

Kimberly Underwood, Ph.D.

Dr. Kimberly Underwood is the Research Chair for the University of Phoenix Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research. With an extensive background in academia and government, including a combined 15 years of experience in diversity and inclusion education, research and management within academia and government, Dr. Underwood has served as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Policy, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Policy and Chairperson of Doctoral Studies. Dr. Underwood’s service record includes leadership and advisory positions within several professional and community organizations. Her publications and presentations address diversity onboarding, diversity management and supporting diversity within K-12 and higher education, and her research interests include critical multiculturalism and organizational diversity socialization in business settings. Her most recent research projects have focused on the infusion of diversity-related social events into curricula and the role of higher education in effectively developing social responsibility and citizenry. Dr. Underwood earned a doctorate in education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a master's of business administration from the Illinois Institute of Technology and executive certification in strategic diversity and inclusion management from Georgetown University. She has more than ten years of higher education teaching experience and has earned the ranks of facilitator, adjunct professor, assistant professor and associate professor.  

The Feed