The challenges faced by black male teachers in schools may serve as the canary in the coalmine that begins to explain the debilitating condition faced by black boys in schools. Black males represent 1.9% of all public school teachers yet have one of the highest rates of turnover. Attempts to increase the number of black male teachers are based on research that suggests these new recruits can improve black students’ schooling outcomes.
Below, I discuss my study of the school-based experiences of 27 black male teachers in Boston Public Schools (BPS), who represent approximately 10 percent of all black male teachers in the district. This study, which I recently discussed in Boston’s NPR news station, is one of the largest studies conducted exclusively on black male teachers and has implications for policymakers as well as school administrators looking to recruit and retain black male educators.
Here is a summary of the key findings.
Early experience in teaching influenced participants’ decisions to become teachers.
Black male teachers described multiple pathways into the teaching profession. About 63 percent of study participants had an early experience teaching in high school, college, an after-school program, or as a substitute teacher, which influenced their decision to enter the teaching profession.
Participants felt more like behavior managers than teachers.
Black male teachers believed that their colleagues, particularly white females, sought their help in dealing with misbehavior rather than their advice about teaching. They also expressed frustration that their primary interaction with colleagues was to receive assistance redirecting students’ misbehavior, as opposed to support with teaching content. As one participant noted, “I can see most people would feel enthused that they’re helping out their colleagues – like they picked me because they respect me – [but] it’s also becoming a burden now because I have other things to do. I have to plan. I have to plan for my kids to be on a specific track, plan my scope and sequence, and correct papers. Just the regular things that teachers do.”
There were challenges associated with being the only black male teacher.
Black male teachers’ experience and satisfaction depended on whether they were the only black man in the school (a “Loner”) or one of many black men (a “Grouper”). Loners believed they were socially alone and disconnected from the core mission of the school. One participant noted: “It almost feels like I’m in someone else’s house, intruding.” Schools with many black male teachers were more likely to have a black principal and to be among the district’s lowest performing schools or turnaround schools.
Black male teachers are more likely to leave lower performing schools.
During interviews, teachers were asked about their decisions to stay or leave. Then, at the start of the next academic year, teachers were interviewed briefly to determine if they stayed or moved schools. Loners – those working in schools in which they were the sole black male teacher – stayed. They highlighted overall positive working conditions, specifically the school environment and students, as the two primary factors that influenced their decisions to remain at their schools. One loner, who described experiencing racial harassment by both his administrator and colleagues, noted, “I enjoy my job; it’s a good job,” but conceded: “I suspect I’m going to have some sort of challenges no matter where I go because I’m a black male.”
Groupers – black male teachers in schools where there were other black male teachers – tended to move schools and leave the profession. They cited poor working conditions as their reasons for leaving, and suggested that many of their colleagues, across all racial groups, had similar feelings. One participant, who resigned at the end of the academic year, recounted how, after he collected all cellular phones from students before the MCAS (the state test), another administrator stopped and frisked students while they were taking the exam. The participant decried, “That is a microcosm of what it’s like to go to school here…this isn’t a prison. We can’t treat our kids like they are criminals… I’m just done.”
Finally, there were two teachers, both groupers, who were exited from their schools. In particular, one participant at an exam school explained that he was dismissed because of his colleague’s inferiority complexes. With undergraduate and graduate degrees from two of the country’s most prestigious institutions, and a teacher of a core subject in STEM, the participant described how a fellow colleague suggested he was “too polished, too well rounded, and couldn’t understand why I was teaching.”
The results discussed above seem to lend themselves to a few recommendations for recruiting and retaining black male teachers in Boston Public Schools.
Target black male high school students to enter the teaching profession.
Policy makers and district officials looking to increase the flow of the pipeline of black male teachers should consider opportunities for black boys and young men, in BPS, to experience teaching. Such opportunities might include targeting and training a select group of black male high school juniors and seniors to enter the teaching pipeline.
Addressing retention can increase the number of black male teachers in BPS.
District officials should pay close attention to retention if they desire an increase in the number of black male teachers. Half of the groupers, who were teaching in some of the district’s most underperforming schools, left. Resources and leadership of the high-poverty schools serving large minority student populations must be improved.
Design professional development targeted at Black male teachers.
To increase black male teacher retention, district officials should concentrate on improving these teachers’ experiences, and the schools in which they teach. The district’s current initiative, the Male Educators of Color Executive Coaching Seminar Series, which was informed by the Boston Teacher Residency Male Educator of Color Networking Group, could be expanded and improved, with specific attention to providing socio-emotional support to male teachers of color, and a space to reflect on their practice.
Implement racial and gender awareness training for new and current administrators.
District officials should include racial and gender awareness training for new administrators, as well as on-going training for current administrators. These sessions could be designed and run by male teachers of color in the Male Educators of Color Executive Coaching Seminar Series.
Identify and intervene in schools with low numbers of Black male teachers.
At the very least, to deal with loners’ isolation, the district should identify schools with one black male teacher and strongly encourage administrators to hire additional black men.
Enlarge the scope of the Office of Equity.
The Office of Equity should review all cases where black male teachers are excessed or dismissed.
Travis Bristol is a former high school English teacher in New York City public schools and teacher educator with the Boston Teacher Residency Program. He is an alumni of the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) and current research and policy fellow at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE).
This article was originally published Aug. 6, 2014 on the Shanker Blog.
Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.