By Alice Ginsberg, Marybeth Gasman, and Andrés Castro Samayoa
In recent article in Education Week titled “Black male teachers a dwindling demographic,” Corey Mitchell writes that, “Even when teachers of color find work in the classroom, many end up fleeing out of frustration.” Citing a 2015 report by the Albert Shanker Institute on the state of diversity in teacher education, Mitchell calls attention to disturbing statistics about the attrition of teachers of color, and, in particular, black men. Mitchell suggests that while the pool of qualified and committed teachers of color is increasing, these same teachers are leaving the profession at higher rates than white teachers, drawing upon research findings that “many nonwhite educators feel voiceless and incapable of effecting change in their schools.”
Mitchell emphasizes that in cases where black male teachers are one of the only male teachers of color in their school they often feel isolated. While they are often called upon to deal with discipline issues, black male teachers tend to be viewed as intellectually inferior by their white colleagues as they are not consulted about issues of actual teaching or curriculum content. On the other hand, schools with higher clusters of black male teachers tend to be among the hardest to staff, economically disadvantaged, and lowest performing schools. The working conditions can be so exhausting and overwhelming that even the most dedicated and highly trained teachers burn out quickly.
While Mitchell rightly underscores the combination of personal, institutional, and structural reasons that Black men are leaving the teaching profession, there is reason for optimism that this statistic can be reversed.
In 2014, for example, Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) conferred a disproportionate number of degrees in education to blacks and Hispanics. Even though HBCUs represent only 4.4% of all the institutions conferring bachelor’s in education, they account for 26% of all black students receiving a degree in this field. Equally important, they also account for 30% of the education degrees conferred to Black men. Hispanic Serving Institutions also occupy a similar role among their constituency: They conferred nearly half (46.8%) of all the degrees granted to Hispanics, even though HSIs only account for 5.8% of all institutions conferring degrees in education. More importantly, HSIs and HBCUs combined awarded over 30% of all the bachelor’s degrees in education conferred to blacks, even though they jointly make up less than 10% of all institutions that conferred education degrees in 2014.
Teacher education programs at HBCUs — much like those at other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) — are not only our nation’s major contributors to the pool of teachers of color, but they are actively trying to solve issues of teacher retention and attrition as well. By designing innovative programs to better prepare teachers to work in schools that have concentrations of students of color, MSIs give us new models for effective student teaching and clinical preparation. In particular, MSIs have been national leaders in building university-school-community partnerships, and addressing issues such as bilingual education and tutoring for migrant students.
Moreover, the social justice mission of MSIs is instrumental in the creation of think-tanks and networks for university faculty, teacher education students, teachers, administrators, and educational policymakers to work together to solve pressing issues for minority and underserved students. By combining their human and financial resources, MSI teacher education programs and schools in the communities they serve benefit in both the short and long term.
Most significantly, teachers who graduate from MSIs have spent significant time in the schools and communities they seek to work in — as students, student teachers, and through community service. The issues they face come as no surprise and, in turn, they come armed with strategies for success. This is not to say that their jobs are not difficult, but they come to this work with the mindset and tenacity needed to change individual lives of struggling students and larger structural inequities in their schools and in American education more generally.
If we truly want to move the needle on the recruiting and retaining black male teachers, we have to look to and engage Minority Serving Institutions. If we don’t, perhaps we don’t really want to solve the problem.