As usual my friend Chris Edmin beat me to the punch in his article Why Black Men Quit Teaching. The plight of Black males in education has been on my mind to lately. I am entering my 15th year working in the field. However, I am moving back into administration after a four-year stint back in the classroom. This past spring, I was tasked with hiring teachers for the upcoming school year. Working at an all boys’ school, I wanted to make it a point to hire culturally competent teachers to work with our students. I interviewed several Black males as candidates, some of whom, I invited to our school to perform demo lessons.
What I found was staggeringly disappointing. Some of these brothers flat out could not teach. One gentleman, I was sure I would hire if simply showed basic competency as a teacher. He completely belly-flopped the lesson. When we debriefed about the lesson, he told me how effective he thought it was. He also went on to say that his principal had been giving him high praise for the work he had done instructionally. Fast forward a few weeks later and another gentleman was interviewing. He had over 16 years experience as a classroom teacher. His demo lesson was a disaster! And so it was with about five others candidates.
When I challenged him on why he thought his lesson was effective, he said it was because the children enjoyed themselves, and their behavior was on task. When I pressed him even further and asked him how did he know that the children met the objective for the lesson, he said, “ I do not have any evidence, but I am sure they did because they were quiet and listening.” There were a few more stories, that I could share from my experience this spring.
I really began to question my push to hire Black men to teach Black boys. I tried to answer the question, why is their pedagogy so subpar? Here is my theory. It boils down to standards. Our standards for Black boys as students are relatively low, but so are our standards for Black men as professionals.
Think of this:
How many times are school leaders, teachers, and parents content to have a Black male teacher in the building? AND, How many times have you seen the Black men in your building be called upon to be disciplinarians, deans, security guards, enforcer- types, behavior techs, behavior modifiers, toy cops, mall cops etc, etc? How many times do Black men take on these roles, even though they are classroom teachers? How many times have you witnessed (or maybe even done it yourself) black male teacher or staff member, serving as care taker(s) for some young African American male students who is having a disciplinary issue? This is commonplace.
Can you take him; he is acting up again?
You’re a black man, talk to him?
Here is your favorite student again! Take him.
I can’t take him disrespecting me any longer; he can go home with you for all I care.
These are some of the things teachers/staff say to African-American male staff members and teachers. That black male teacher is doing his job, as long as those outcasted Hispanic/Black boys are quiet and kept in line.
I am not saying this is an excuse for not knowing and embracing pedagogy. However, I will say it happened to me. I was told I was an effective teacher because I never sent my children to the office, and I was always helping other staff members with the tough behavioral problems (most of who were boys of color). I was not being nurtured in the profession. My job was to serve as enforcer, or talk a child out of a crisis situation.
That is why I mention my four years back in the classroom. It really allowed me to perfect my understanding of
My message to Black Male teachers is simple. You are a teacher; embrace the pedagogy and know your content. No one in the building should be better versed than you!
The second part of the message is you must reject the enforcer role. It starts with standing up for the Black Male students in the building. Teachers need to maintain the expectation that those boys are going to stay in class and learn. Those teachers also need to maintain the expectation that they as adults are responsible for the learning of the students they are putting out. What is the expectation of student who I put out of class; there is no expectation. As long as he is out of my hair things are fine.
If schools jettison our boys aside, what do we expect from society or the criminal justice system?
So unlike my good collegue Chris, I am not saying this is why Black Males leave the teaching profession, but I do think it could be part of the reason why so many Black male teachers have not begun to perfect their craft.
So as Chris alludes to John King’s invisible tax. I submit that there is another invisible tax. A tax potentially hindering Black Men from developing as educational craftsmen. Taxed because of the expectation that we will keep boys in line, be enforcers, and that our kids are learning, when in reality we are merely disciplinarians keeping them quiet. So as Black male teachers, I challenge you to take ownership of your craft as a master teacher and shed the stereotype of #Blackmaletoycop. If we do not, we are complicit in the destruction of a our own children.