There’s a crisis in education. Urban school districts, which are mostly made up of minority students, largely don’t have minority teachers. Sounds weird, but a further look will point one in multiple directions on the matter. Black teachers are leaving schools … and the profession as a whole. Now, to be fair, teacher retention has been major problem for everyone, regardless of identity marker. However, black teachers have already been at a deficit, and losses have made what was already a problem, a much bigger one.
Before we scuba dive into the problem, let’s get a little context. Urban school districts are largely made up of black students. While the numbers are high regardless of where you are, let’s take the school district of Philadelphia for example. As of January 2023, the Philadelphia Public School District has an enrollment of 113,443 students. Of that number, 51 percent of them are African American and 23 percent are Latino. 13 percent are white and 7 percent are Asian. Now, when it comes to staff demographics, 71 percent of employees are white. Black and Latino employees come in around 20 percent combined. In a district that is mostly black and Latino in terms of student body, professionally, it’s majority white. This leaves black teachers, existing in small parts in many school buildings, with most school buildings have 2-3 black teachers.
The overall magic number, however, in terms of telling the tale of black teachers is 2. Black male teachers represent 2 percent of education. 2. If we are eating a whole pie, 2 percent of it not even noticeable. That’s why this is a crisis. Know what else is bad? 9.5 percent of ALL principals are black. And, to go even further, some of these numbers are actually dropping.
So Why’re They Leaving: “Can’t Be What You Can’t See…”
This one pertains more to black male teachers, but is a teacher problem as a whole. Black men don’t see black male teachers, therefore, they don’t become teachers. Plain and simple. Many black students can go their entire K – 12 school career having between 0 – 2 black male teachers. Many of which they will not have until high school. It almost sends a message to them that this is not something “black men do…” In the black community there’s a phrase, “you cant be what you can’t see.” This phrase would come after much of the denial of black people in high places, which could lead to children aiming for what seems tangible based upon what they would already see.
So, Why Else Are They Leaving: “The Only Black Teacher Syndrome”
This one goes two ways. Black educators get into buildings, particularly where there are a lot of minority students and mostly white teachers, and they become overwhelmed. This overwhelming comes from the fact that they are now the authority on all things black. Need help with a black student, talk to the black teacher. Black History Month programming, let the black teacher run it. While these things can become stressful, they are things that black teachers typically wants to engage in. Black teachers want black children to get what they need, and to be respected. Black teachers want to have a hand in the Black History month programming because it represents their culture. No amount of desire, however, can defeat natural burnout. Over time, black teachers run out of juice for things like this, and it can be a contributing factor to their resignation.
The other direction that this goes into, is from a staff perspective.When you’re the only one, you are now the authority that white counterparts can lean on. That’s a good thing in all actuality, but it gets overwhelming when it’s just you. Everyone wants to feel related to, connected to. When that presence is missing for the black educator, it becomes a contributing factor in why they choose to leave. This leaving doesn’t just pertain to schools, it pertains to education as a whole, and are contributing factors to the aforementioned numbers dropping.
So, What Do We Do From Here?
There are a host of organizations nationwide out to recruit black teachers. In fact there are even schools that will offer perks for alumni who study education and come back to teach. Time will tell how well these initiatives will work for black educators. These initiatives are important because as more black educators get into education, more black educators have black colleagues. This will allow much of the responsibility to levied, and a stronger presence of the narrative. At this point, all that can be done is bringing awareness and letting black children see that black people need black people to be apart of their educational journey.
A Black Educator