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I Didn't Realize How Lucky I Was to Have Mr. Emmanuel as My Teacher

Let's recruit, celebrate, and keep Black Male Teachers!

As a little girl, I attended Kennedy Child Development Center, an extension of the San Diego Unified School District's early childhood education program. This site was located in the inner city, Lincoln Cluster of Southeastern San Diego. I was there from the age of two until I graduated elementary school. By age three, I had a Black male teacher named Emmanuel Francois. At that time I was too young to realize that Black male teachers were an anomaly and not the norm. I also didn't fully recognize the uniqueness and value of having a Black male teacher early on because I came from a strong male-dominant family. It took me years to really process and appreciate having Mr. Emmanuel as one of my first teachers.

I didn't see another Black male teacher until high school, and then one again in college. It wasn't until I got into activism — and particularly in the quality education movement — that I recognized that I had a unique experience. Most of my friends and colleagues reported having no Black male teacher until college.

I was fortunate to have Mr. Emmanuel as a teacher during the foundation of my education journey. His presence was a fundamental part of establishing my academic presence and helped set me on a path to success.

Mr. Emmanuel was amazing at recognizing my potential and he fostered it. Oftentimes, I would find myself in a bit of trouble for either talking too much or talking out of turn — even for asking questions that some adults in the space deemed disrespectful. However, I was a curious child who wanted to know and understand every aspect of what I was being told. 

It was not uncommon for Mr. Emmanuel to intervene for me when other teachers would've preferred to give me a consequence. He recognized that I was a kinesthetic learner and curious thinker, so he kept me in motion and actively involved in completing tasks that created space for me to learn and grow in my style. He was completely opposed to excluding students like me from learning and was our #1 onsite advocate. Over the years, I became Mr. Emmanuel's helper or class leader, and on field trips I was his "shadow."

After leaving the child development center, I remained in contact with Mr. Emmanuel. And once I graduated from high school, he suggested that I take the test at the school district and come back to work for the child development center in the inner city — which I did. So, Mr. Emmanuel was again my teacher — this time a personal K-12 Education trainer over the 13 years I spent working in the San Diego Unified School District. 

I was able to connect how he taught me to how I should teach other children. Mr. Emmanuel grew publicly proud of me and told people that I was his goddaughter. Unfortunately, last year Mr. Emmanuel Francois died too young, as many Black males often do. Knowing that he died with the stress of feeling that he still had so much work to complete is hard. 

But I recognize that his legacy lives through the many children's lives that he touched by tapping into their unique potential and being a part of that legacy is invaluable. I deeply understand the importance of all children having a strong Black male teacher, and hope others will acknowledge and respect the qualities they bring to the classroom, too. 

Black male teachers are a foundational part of society and education. In a 2017 study published by the Institute of Labor Economics, researchers found that low-income Black male elementary school students who were paired with a Black teacher in the third, fourth or fifth grades were 39% less likely to drop out of high school. The researchers also found that matching low-income Black students of both sexes with at least one Black teacher between the third and fifth grades increased their aspirations to attend a four-year college by 19%.

In addition to academic gains, Black students taught by Black teachers exhibited better behavioral outcomes. According to 2015 research by Adam C. Wright, a professor of economics at Western Washington University, behavioral assessments of Black students in the classroom significantly improve when they have a Black teacher rather than a white teacher. Wright found that as Black students receive instruction from a greater number of Black teachers, the probability of suspension decreases. In a 2017 study, Wright and his team showed that students of color placed with a teacher of color were less likely to argue or act out than minority students placed with White teachers.

Black male teachers are the pillars of communities, moving education forward in ways that are often uncelebrated and not recognized. In order to move education forward, eliminate future social woes, and offer our children strong Black leadership like I had with Mr. E; reimagining education MUST be done with the intentionality of preparing, uplifting, and supporting Black male teachers. 

Lisa Hollenbach
Lisa Hollenbach is Senior Digital Manager for Education Post. Prior to joining Education Post, Lisa developed digital and content strategy for Teaching Channel. She served on the Bill and Melinda Gates Teacher Advisory Council from 2014-2017 and was active in the planning and execution of several Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2) convenings at both the regional and ...

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