By: Larry J. Walker, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, University of Central Florida
The growth of the global economy has created new opportunities for individuals with diverse skills. This includes students with STEM backgrounds who have the ability to address future needs. While producing more STEM experts is important, it is critical to ensure that all students have access to teachers with similar lived experiences. Currently, the majority of students enrolled in public schools are from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, their teachers do not reflect these changing demographics. For example, less than 2% of K-12 teachers are Black males. This statistic is alarming and highlights the need to consider non-traditional approaches to recruiting Black male pre-service STEM teachers. For this reason, I outline my experiences as a former Black male preK-12 teacher in schools in the mid-Atlantic and southern U.S. and the challenges Black males encounter, and provide recommendations and areas of future research and new initiatives.
Understanding the Black Male Pre-service Journey
The research focusing on recruiting and retaining Black male pre-service teachers has focused on the barriers and areas for improvement (Bristol & Goings, 2019). Increasingly, the researchers discussing the challenges are former Black male preK-12 educators who have transitioned to higher education. My previous experience spending nearly ten years working in urban, rural, and suburban school districts shapes my research—specifically, my interactions with faculty members, school and district leaders, and parents. This includes racial and gender challenges that are unique to Black male educators, for example, the belief that we should be school disciplinarians. For this reason, I have shared my experiences as a pre-service teacher and provided actionable steps for teacher training programs, school districts, and other education related organizations (Walker, 2016).
It is important to recognize that the journey for Black males to complete a STEM degree that includes pre-service education does not mirror that of other students. Research (McGee, 2014) suggests that their race contributes to seen/unseen barriers. This can include assumptions about their background, beliefs, and ability to teach children from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Unfortunately, as a pre-service teacher I experienced some of these challenges including people questioning my career choice. In addition, when I was a pre-service teacher, I was given assignments that included helping students with perceived discipline problems instead of having time to work on lesson plans. This occurs far too often in school settings.
Black male STEM majors could choose another path because there are so many career opportunities outside of education. To recruit and retain Black male pre-service teachers and ensure these students feel valued and welcomed, traditional and non-traditional teacher preparation programs, school leaders, and other stakeholders will have to embrace change. Hopefully, my research and lived experience provide a roadmap for supporters who realize Black pre-service STEM teachers will thrive with the appropriate support.
Recommendations for Recruiting and Retaining Black Male Pre-Service Teachers
Ensuring that more Black STEM majors choose education as a profession is vital. More than half of students in public schools are from racial and ethnic backgrounds. The number is likely to increase over the next several years. In contrast, less than 10% of teachers are Black (Goings, Walker, & Cotignola-Pickens, 2018). In the future, the growth of the global economy will require students to interact with individuals from different linguistic backgrounds with various skills. More importantly, educators will have to ensure students are able to compete while respecting cultural experiences. The first step to meeting this goal should include training more Black male pre-service teachers.
Recruiting and retaining larger numbers of Black male educators is critical. However, it is important to acknowledge that Black educators are more likely to leave the profession compared to their White colleagues, undermining minority teacher recruitment efforts (Ingersoll et al., 2021). The trend will have long-term implications for students because they will have limited access to teachers with similar lived experiences. Can we find effective ways to change course? Possibly, but stakeholders will have to determine which institutions and programs have successfully trained new Black male teachers.
For years, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have recruited, trained, and nurtured students interested in becoming teachers. This includes preparing Black students for STEM careers (Walker & Goings, 2017). Currently, HBCUs are responsible for 38% of Black male teachers (Gasman, Samayoa, & Ginsburg, 2017). The statistic highlights why HBCUs are so important to the Black male teacher pipeline.
In a previous publication, I highlighted the critical role that HBCUs play in preparing Black male pre-service teachers including their history as teacher colleges, the nurturing environment, and culturally affirming curriculum (Walker, 2019a). Additionally, I talk about my journey as a pre-service teacher at an HBCU. During my time in college, I kept most of my personal experiences in a journal. The publication also includes some of the historical challenges that impacted the number of Black male teachers. This includes how states and school districts responded after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
While colleges, states, school districts, and other advocates would like to increase the number of Black males in education, it is important to recognize that sometimes their experiences are difficult. I outline how schools can create unnecessary barriers for Black males. As a result, they are rarely interested in becoming or remaining a teacher because of their, at times, poor treatment in preK-12 schools. This includes educators who have low expectations, bias that contributes to higher expulsion and suspension rates, ignoring cultural norms, and teachers’ inability to be reflective practitioners. To strengthen the pipeline, educators should consider how school climates impact the experiences of Black males.
Despite the challenges, it is important to provide recommendations to colleges and school districts to strengthen the pipeline (Walker, 2019a):
- Use Clemson University’s Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) program as a template for training male students from minoritized backgrounds. It provides tuition assistance, an academic support system, a cohort system for social and cultural support, and assistance with job placement.
- Use data driven initiatives to improve the ability of teacher training programs to identify and train high achieving Black males
- Develop courses that specifically help Black males navigate racial bias on college campuses and in preK-12 schools.
- Provide funding including full scholarships, stipends, and ensure that Black males have reliable transportation to and from campus during their student teaching.
Colleges and universities are not the only institutions that must adjust. School districts should consider the following:
- Offer professional development focused on culturally relevant pedagogy, bias, and other important topics to ensure teachers do not deter Black males from choosing teaching as a profession.
- Partner with HBCUs and other institutions of higher education that excel in preparing Black male pre-service teachers.
- Ensure students are placed with school leaders that are nurturing and understand the challenges Black males could encounter.
The last point regarding school leaders is critical. In another article, my colleagues and I discussed the impact preK-12 school administrators have on Black male pre-service teachers in urban, rural, and suburban schools (Walker, Goings, & Wilkerson, 2019b). All of the authors are Black males and former preK-12 educators. We focus on several issues that complicate the experiences of Black males interested in education including stereotypes and misconceptions. Some of our recommendations include:
- Being “present” for Black male pre-service teachers. This includes creating a healthy workplace and listening to their concerns.
- Establishing positive relationships. Ensuring Black males have the opportunity to grow and feel like a part of the community.
- Creating intentional student teacher mentor-mentee matches. Having a mentor with a similar lived experience is important. However, if a mentor with a different background is not available, the assigned mentor should have received cultural sensitivity training and be committed to supporting the student teacher.
- Avoid assuming Black males are responsible for “saving” students.
- Avoid assumptions regarding their family background and experiences.
The research and recommendations have implications for teacher education programs and school districts:
Teacher Training Programs
- Colleges and universities must be attentive to the needs of Black males. They have to navigate spaces on and off campus that could complicate their journey. This includes difficult interactions with students, faculty, and law enforcement. Providing consistent support is vital.
- Programs need to ensure they have the funding to support innovative programs that recruit and retain Black male STEM pre-service teachers. Black males with a STEM degree will have the opportunity to make more money working for various industries. Providing funding could be an attractive option for students committed to becoming teachers.
- Establish or strengthen agreements with HBCUs and other MSIs.
- Increase funding to Grow Your Own (GYO) programs similar to the Pathways2Teaching program at the University of Colorado Denver and other initiatives that highlight the importance of teaching.
- Ensure that administrators, teachers, and support staff are properly trained to create healthy environments for Black males while they are students in preK-12 settings.
- Encourage Black males to pursue careers in STEM and teaching.
Future Initiatives and Research
Earlier I suggested that advocates should strive to identify and implement traditional and non-traditional approaches to recruiting Black male STEM pre-service teachers. I believe this should include:
- Partnering with barbershops located in Black communities. Over the last few years national, state, and local groups have collaborated on projects with barbershops, focused on voting, mental health, and other critical issues. Considering the success of these programs, it makes sense to consider new approaches. Barbershops play a vital role in the Black community. Frequently, Black males discuss a variety of issues including college scholarships and job opportunities while waiting for a haircut. We can no longer afford to ignore places were Black males feel safe and valued.
- Working with Black Greek Lettered Organizations (BGLOs). On college campuses throughout the United States, Black men join these five organizations because they produce successful teachers, lawyers, engineers, scientists and physicians. BGLOs have a strong history of developing committed educators. Partnering with BGLOs would give colleges, school districts, and others access to thousands of college aged Black males.
- Collecting data that follows Black males interested in teaching from preK-12 settings to degree completion. Specifically, determining how funding, mentoring, and job placement support impacted their success.
I hope that sharing my personal journey and research helps advocates identify and implement creative programs. We can recruit and retain more Black male STEM pre-service teachers if we provide them with emotional and financial support. Considering that schools educate students from mostly diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, the current 2% figure for Black male teachers is not sufficient. However, if we work together, we can support the needs of these future leaders and turn the tide in education.