If Black Male Teachers Benefit Students, Why Are They Underrepresented?

Sep 9, 2019 12:00:00 AM


Two percent and shrinking. It’s a statistic that may seem small enough to be insignificant … until you understand what the number represents.

Black males make up only 2% of all teachers in P-12 education, compared to students of color who comprise half of classroom populations. But the diminutive representation is not the only cause for alarm. Black male educators’ absence in the classroom could have negative implications on students’ academic and cultural edification. 

Why Are Black Male Educators Underrepresented?

Research conducted by University of Phoenix sought to answer that question. Led by Dr. Kimberly Underwood, University Research Chair for the Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research, a team of research fellows examined the factors affecting the shortage of Black male teachers. The team published their findings in a white paper entitled, “Having Our Say: Examining Career Trajectories of Black Male Educators in P-12 Education.” 


The project began as a collaboration when the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) approached Dr. Pamela Roggeman, dean of the University’s College of Education and Dr. Underwood to seek out a meaningful project on the topic of diversifying education. They landed on working with NNSTOY Outstanding Black Male Fellowship to examine the current issues surrounding the lack of Black male educators in P-12 education. With Dr. Underwood’s extensive background in teacher preparation, collaborating around that fellowship to glean insight into their experiences seemed to be a perfect fit.

[pullquote]The white paper examines the need to move Black males successfully through what the research team deems as the “leaky” classroom pipeline into teaching positions in our nation’s classrooms.[/pullquote] It can be easy to gloss over statistics, but to be able to focus the problem within the scope of these statistics is what can help bring the issue to the forefront.

For Dr. Underwood, that collaboration between University of Phoenix College of Doctoral Studies research fellows and the NNSTOY Outstanding Black Male Fellows was key. “Just being able to examine this issue through the lived experiences of the Black male educators working in today’s classrooms and infusing their voices into this paper—that is what made this paper dynamic,” she said.

It is not as if there have not been any past efforts to diversify P-12 education. There have been several federal and grow-your-own attempts intending to increase the number of Black males entering the teaching profession. But, even with these programs, the number of Black males in the teaching profession has remained steady at 2%. 

The purpose of the research presented in the white paper is not only to examine the numbers and the reasons behind a lack of growth, but also to look forward to what comes next. The critical point is that there is still work to be done. Additional conversation, effort, thought and strategy will all be needed to find ways to increase the number of Black male educators in P-12.

As the research points out, for the most part, the responsibility to recruit and retain has been put on the schools. But it should be a collective effort. As stated in the report: “The Black male teacher recruitment agenda continues to be a necessary topic in educational reform. The creation of several grassroots, Black male teacher recruitment initiatives has heightened the visibility of this issue.”

It is not only about increasing numbers of Black male educators, but also considering the impact on students. The researchers found that “negative perceptions about the teaching profession are often established before [young Black males] leave high school.” Having Black male educators in the classroom is one way the experience in the classroom could be improved. It’s a key factor in helping them see the possibility—not only of graduating from high school and going to college—but also of becoming educators themselves.

With the lack of Black males as teachers in the classroom, Black male students may not see it as a viable career possibility. Underwood questions, “[pullquote position="right"]What message are we sending today’s youth about the importance of diversity when male faces of color are notably absent in school settings?[/pullquote]” In a social environment where diversity and inclusion remain a continued part of the conversation, let this paper inspire action.

Diversity is what an individual brings into an organization. Inclusion is action—it is embracing those characteristics and embracing the ways they can motivate and inspire others. The recruitment of Black male educators remains a necessary imperative, and the voices of these exceptional NNSTOY Fellows highlight the desideratum to critically examine and support the Black male educator’s career trajectory at every phase.

Let’s find ways to make 2% a problem of the past.

Cooper Nelson

Cooper Nelson is a Communications Manager at University of Phoenix (UOPX), leading the University’s content development strategy. During his time at UOPX, Nelson has supported the University’s areas focused on Business, Information Technology, Criminal Justice, Counseling and Doctoral Studies. He has led large national campaigns to promote and share UOPX studies and thought leadership and has been published in a number of top-tier news outlets and industry trade publications.

Cooper has worked in the public relations and internal/external communications space for more than seven years, also helping develop content and strategy for Grand Canyon University (GCU). During his tenure at GCU, Nelson was a foundational member of the GCU Today communications team that launched the University’s news hub, internal communications strategy and quarterly magazine. He was also a co-founder of the GCU Today news video series and contributed to the launch of the GCU Today Twitter account. Cooper earned a master’s of business administration with an emphasis in marketing and a bachelor’s in communications from GCU.

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