Schools Don’t Look Like Me

The bell rings.

The doors open.

Little faces exhibiting curiosity, anguish, joy and uncertainly enter the school building. Colorful clothing, rumbling footsteps, uncontrollable laugher, and at times inaudible conversations about life permeate the stairway as children disappear into classrooms. These students whether in black leather “church” shoes or Jordan Retro 12’s venture into these spaces to acquire knowledge in hopes of reaching heights only imagined.

Once students have entered the classrooms they place their belongings in coatrooms or hooks and prepare for the day. The teacher whom most often greets them with “good morning” seldom looks like them. Today children represent many ethnicities, cultures, and religions. In fact, the American school system is the most diverse its ever been. However, the faculty in many American schools are white and the majority of these teachers are women. Where are the Black male teachers?

During my sophomore year at the University of Minnesota I knew that my calling was to become a teacher. Out of the hundreds of students in Minnesota’s school of education less than 10 percent were African-American and, even more striking, just 1 percent of those that would commit their lives to this work were black males. Being closely tied to that 1 percent, I would often self-reflect on my own personal experiences. What made this picture even more vivid was cycling though memories, looking back at the countless teachers who taught me while a student in Milwaukee Public Schools and realizing that in my 13 years of elementary, middle and high school education only one of my teachers, Mr. Harris, was a black man.

I realized, as a black male educator, that my 11 years in an elementary classroom were atypical. Because as I reflected on my professional network it was comprised of well-connected, highly educated and impassioned teachers, none of whom looked like me. There is a lot that comes with being the only in a school. Being treated as the “black savior” of the toughest kids of color, confronting daily micro-aggressions with colleagues, becoming a wordsmith in an effort to articulately check misinformed teachers, and feeling as though you are under a microscope is a hefty burden to bear.

We are in a national crisis and we need more black men in not only our schools but in our classrooms as well. “America’s teachers are disproportionally female (75 percent) and white (83 percent), according to recent federal data. Black men make up less than 2 percent of teachers, though minorities now make up a majority of students in public schools”. Our black children do not see reflections of themselves in teaching or in administrative positions. In addition, our boys lack the male role models whose presence alone can instill values of worth and purpose.

There are programs that understand the urgency of supporting black male educators and there are national initiatives encouraging black males to consider being teachers. Bottom line, our boys of color, especially our black boys need black men to mentor them, coach them, guide them, teach them, and love them!

In sixth grade Mr. Harris told me I would be great. He said I could attend an Ivy League university if I put my mind to it. In his presence I felt that I had the power to change the world. He wasn’t the first teacher to believe in me, but he was the one that mattered the most. Mr. Harris, wherever you are, thank you for believing in me, and know that ya boy attended an Ivy League, Columbia University, and I am changing the world.