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date: 03 October 2022

# Black Male Preservice Teachers

• Dawn N. Hicks TafariDawn N. Hicks TafariDepartment of Education, Winston-Salem State University
•  and Janeva WilsonJaneva WilsonDepartment of Psychological Sciences, Winston-Salem State University

### Summary

Institutionalized racism in the American education system has resulted in a crisis plaguing young Black boys from their preschool years and continuing into their pursuits in higher education. This is manifested as various forms of racial and gendered oppression, which is causing a disparate gap in Black males’ educational success and achievement. Racism and bias on the individual and systemic level have short- and long-term implications for Black male students and Black male teachers. Negative experiences in primary and secondary education make it more difficult to recruit and retain Black male teachers. The presence of Black male teachers is not only imperative to diversify a field dominated by White women but to also enhance the educational experiences of young Black boys. The diversity of students is not reflected by those teaching them, which exacerbates issues facing Black males in primary education, Black male preservice teachers, and new teachers.

Understanding and addressing the barriers that young Black men face in education can yield efforts to support their success not only as students but as teachers. Establishing an inclusive and encouraging space where young Black boys can flourish in school can promote a more inviting place for Black male teachers to shine. Young Black boys who see educators that resemble them are positively impacted in areas of academic performance and personal growth. Young Black boys being introduced to mentors that understand and relate to them is instrumental during their formative years, as they can witness Black men succeeding in the face of adversity. An increased presence of Black male teachers in education is not the sole solution for the troubles and oppression that young Black boys face in education. However, they are a valuable asset to the education system, as well as the lives of students who benefit from their existence.

### Subjects

• Education, Cultures, and Ethnicities
• Education and Society
• Education, Gender, and Sexualities

### The Problem

There is a serious crisis affecting Black boys in P–12 school systems across the United States. This crisis is a result of centuries of broadly implemented, institutional, racist policies and practices. This crisis expresses itself in many ways: the disproportionate numbers of Black male students who are suspended from school, skewed referrals for special education services, and excessively high school dropout rates (Ferguson, 2001; Schott Foundation for Public Education, 2015; Sundius & Farneth, 2008). However, racist policies and practices not only deleteriously impact Black boys’ short-term academic success but also have long-term effects. One of those long-term effects is career choice: Though education is considered a “safe choice” for Black girls, because Black boys do not always see schools as safe, nurturing places to learn, they do not believe teaching is a safe or lucrative career option for Black men. Thus, there are very few Black male figures leading in elementary classrooms across the United States. Kena et al. (2015) report that only 2% of the nation’s public school teachers are Black men, while 85% of P–12 teachers across the country are middle-class White women. However, Black students comprise 15% of the public school student population (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). Though the teacher’s race, culture, and socioeconomic status are not the sole cause or answer to this very serious problem, there is a consistently flourishing body of research that advocates for diversifying the U.S. teaching workforce as one way to help alleviate the crisis and provide students with teachers who look more like them (Brown & Butty, 1999; Green & Martin, 2018; Howard, 2014; Kunjufu, 1985; Lewis & Toldson, 2013; Millward, 2014; Noguera, 2008; Pabon et al., 2011; Tafari, 2018).

One of the ways to help eliminate these gender and racial disparities is by immersing Black boys in an educational environment in which they have realistic role models who share some of their cultural experiences and value their cultural capital (Lynn, 2006a). Effective Black men teachers can serve as walking counternarratives for the boys they teach and with whom they interact on a daily basis (Douglas & Peck, 2013; Howard, 2000; Lynn, 2006b). Moreover, all children can benefit from the influence of effective Black male figures in their lives—whether at home or at school. Because children spend many of their waking hours in schools, those who do not have effective Black male figures in their lives at home may benefit from that presence at school—especially during the crucial developmental stages that occur during the elementary years.

### Why Don’t Black Men Teach?

The teaching profession is known for being noble, important, and necessary. However, the profession is also known for being monolithic, as White women compose the majority of the teaching workforce, and Black men are among the minority. These compositions do not mirror the student population. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2022), of the 50.7 million students enrolled in P–12 schools, 24.1 million are White, 7.7 million are Black, 13.6 million are Hispanic, 2.8 million are Asian/Pacific Islander (2.6 million are Asian and 185,000 are Pacific Islander), half a million are American Indian/Alaska Native, and 2 million are of two or more races. Though an ideal teaching workforce would more closely mirror the student population, there are several reasons why few Black men choose careers as P–12 educators. Of these reasons, the four most prevalent reasons that Black men decide not to become P–12 teachers are a social status that is lower than and contrary to someone who has earned a college degree, the low pay associated with the low social status, the negative stigma associated with men doing what is traditionally known as “woman’s work,” and the vilification of Black men who have a passion for teaching and working with children.

#### Low Social Status

The low social status of Black boys and men in the United States has long been an issue of concern. Jewelle Taylor Gibbs (1988) coined the term “endangered species” in relation to Black males in America in her book Young, Black, and Male in America. In her book, Gibbs provides a comprehensive look at the deteriorating status of Black boys and men in the United States. Since 1988, several scholars have contended that institutional practices and policies perpetuate this deleterious social status (Ferguson, 2001; Ford, 2004; Gause, 2008). In 2020, the Brookings Institution looked at eight domains of social status and compared Black men to Black women, White women, and White men: education, upward mobility, earnings, labor force participation, unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, life expectancy, COVID-19 death, and criminal justice. In each of these domains, Black men, generally, fare more poorly than their White male and Black female counterparts (Reeves, 2020). One attempt to rectify this serious issue came on July 27, 2020, in the form of the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act (S.2163/H.R. 1636). The legislation was introduced by Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson and called for the establishment of a 19-member commission designed to examine “the social disparities that disproportionately affect Black males in America.” The commission’s task is to

review police brutality, gun violence, fatherhood, recruiting and training black male teachers, and even sneakers, which play an important role in the lives of black boys. Welfare reform and the 1994 crime bill, which includes the controversial three strikes provision and harsh sentencing guidelines, also will be revisited (Media Center, 2020).

The gender and racial implications of socio-economic status causes a butterfly effect. Because Black males in the United States are battling society to increase their social status, teaching tends to not be a preferred career. In the Varkey Foundation’s 2020 report, Reading Between the Lines: What The World Really Thinks of Teachers, Dolton and De Vries state that respect for authority and teacher status are negatively correlated. That is, “in countries where respect for authority is more highly valued, teacher status is lower” (Dolton & De Vries, 2020). Thus, many men, seeking to follow the patriarchal tradition of being “head of household,” choose alternative fields of work in an effort to earn a more highly regarded social status (more respect and money) (Howard, 2000; Lynn, 2006a; Nelson, 2002). As valuable and crucial to the process and product that is education, teachers (particularly P–12 teachers) are regarded as civil servants and not highly respected in the United States. In fact, this lack of regard is not just relative to American minds; this mind-set is prevalent around much of the world. In 2018, the Varkey Foundation examined teacher respect via surveys in 35 counties in a report titled Global Teacher Status Index. In that report, the authors found that “teachers” average a respect ranking of 7 out of 14 among the 14 professions listed as part of the study They also asserted a distinctly clear and occupation-specific correlation between respect for the teaching occupation and the pay perceptions people have in ranking occupations. Consequently, occupations with higher status tend to also assume a higher salary (Dolton et al., 2018).

#### Low Pay

Teacher salaries across the United States are not competitive with other careers that require a minimum of a baccalaureate degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in 2019, the annual mean wage for P–12 and special education teachers was $61,420—as compared to similarly degreed careers like accountants and auditors, for which the annual mean wage is$79,520 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). The teachers’ average wage reported here represents a range in salary from $44,060 for elementary school teachers in Mississippi to$82,830, the average elementary school teacher’s salary in New York (DePietro, 2020). This salary is not particularly attractive because many teachers have student loan debt, families to care for, and, unlike most other college graduates, they are threatened with termination if they do not secure additional credits or an advanced degree within a specified timeframe (Mitchell, 2021). Moreover, a 1996 report from the National Center for Education Statistics noted that the salaries of White men averaged 4% higher than that of Black men (Gruber, 1996). The low salary, coupled with the lack of coaching opportunities on the elementary level—a common salary supplement for male secondary teachers—has been and continues to be a deterrent for Black men seeking lucrative careers or, simply, a career that grants them the opportunity to comfortably serve as head of household in a fashion comparable to their White counterparts (Lynn, 2006b; Nelson, 2002; Tafari, 2013).

#### Negative Stigma

The desire to serve as head of household speaks directly to the American masculine ideal, which encompasses “an elite heterosexual male” (Mutua, 2006, p. 13) who is “opposing and superior to the feminine” (p. 12). This ideal is a standard against which “a man’s masculinity is measured” and includes being a provider (p. 13). However, teaching has been considered “women’s work” since 1829, when Catherine Beecher fought to professionalize teaching as the natural career for women in her publication, “Suggestions Respecting Improvements in Education” (Villaverde, 2008). Consequently, the erroneous belief is that men, especially Black men, who teach young children cannot be “real men” because they enjoy working with and caring for children. Thus, they are ostracized and often mislabeled as homosexual or not masculine for wanting to do what some consider “women’s work.” Moreover, the concern over a male teacher’s sexuality is unfounded, as sexual orientation does not taint one’s passion for civil service (teaching) or dictate one’s professional ability. In fact, many of the Black men who do choose to become teachers often do so with the clear notion that they will be fighting these negative stigmas throughout their careers, so they put structures in place to protect their morale and reputations, like placing photos of their female partners in their classroom and/or telling people upfront that they are not gay (Nelson, 2002; Sargent, 2001; Tafari, 2018).

#### Vilification

The overwhelming desire for Black men to fit into the American masculine ideal makes it difficult for Black men to display passion without vilification. Oftentimes, others regard men who have a passion for teaching and desire to spend their days educating young children (actions considered to be “feminine”) as pedophiles or potential child abusers (Nelson, 2002; Sargent, 2001; Tafari, 2018). These cultural fears have had and continue to have a grave impact on Black male occupational choices. The fear of the Black male body is already perpetuated in the media. Unfortunately, that vilification continues with placement, as Black male teachers are often primarily placed in underserved schools, then hailed as saviors and assumed incompetent at the same time (Bristol & Goings, 2018; Walker, 2020). Not only is the pressure immense, but they are also then reduced to carrying heavy boxes for their female colleagues, being assigned to extra lunch duty and hall patrol so they can exercise their duty as the token disciplinarian in the building, and spending a majority of their time trying to avoid any accusations of molestation (Allegretto & Tojerow, 2014; Helmer, 2005; Sargent, 2001).

### Why Do Black Men Teach?

Despite the low pay, minimal opportunities to supplement income, cultural implications stemming from the feminization of teaching, and the profession’s low status, there are Black men who purposefully choose to pursue careers as P–12 teachers. As “Black men” are a vast and varied group, there is no limit to the specific number of reasons why they choose to teach. However, much of the scholarship on American Black male teachers points to three common factors that positively impact Black men’s decisions to become teachers: the desire to serve as a mentor, or otherfather, for Black boys navigating hostile academic spaces; the desire to make a difference in the lives of Black and Brown children who may or may not have positive male role models in their lives; and the desire to combat the vilification of Black males by being the walking counternarrative (Bridges, 2009; Bristol & Goings, 2018; Bristol et al., 2020; Douglas & Peck, 2013; Hayes et al., 2014; Lynn, 2006a; Tafari, 2013; Walker, 2020).

### Serve as Otherfather

An important factor of Black males’ aspirations to become teachers is the motivation to positively impact the lives of young Black men. Many Black male teachers report either growing up without the presence of positive Black male role models or being the beneficiary of life-changing support, mentoring, and guidance as boys, teens, and/or young men. In turn, they feel a desire to give back to Black youth and pay forward that which they were given by their coaches, teachers, family members, and otherfathers (Bridges, 2009; Hayes et al., 2014; Lynn, 2006a; Tafari, 2013, 2018). Young Black men who do not have father figures in their lives are already at multiple disadvantages, for they are facing systems of discrimination both in and outside of the classroom, and they may be lacking influential and crucial guidance in the form of a present male role model to whom they can relate. It is for this reason that Black male teachers may desire to serve as otherfathers, as students spend a considerable amount of time at school (Hunter et al., 2006; Lynn, 2006b; Tafari, 2018). This presents the opportunity for Black male teachers to immerse themselves in efforts to establish mentorships and other meaningful connections with Black students who may be lacking a father figure.

Furthermore, such connections are especially significant for students undergoing crucial developmental stages in elementary school (Lynn, 2006b; Tafari, 2018). By serving as otherfathers, Black men are combating the gendered oppression they face, not only in a White female-dominated field but also the discrimination they face as Black men in America. Black men may find that their lived experiences do not always align with negative social perceptions and must find a way to negotiate the two (Bridges, 2009; Tafari, 2018). Black male teachers who serve as otherfathers assist young Black men in not only maneuvering this negotiation process but also coming to terms with what entails Black manhood in America. According to Tafari (2018), otherfathering can take more than one form: somatic, which is sensory, or cerebral, which is intellectual. A somatic otherfather is someone who is physically present to mentor and provide support, guidance, and care for a child through tough love and discipline. For example, a male teacher who mentors a student outside of the classroom, going beyond the basic duties of an educator, is a somatic otherfather. Cerebral otherfathering, on the other hand, draws on hip-hop to assist in mentoring and guiding young people. Black men from the hip-hop generation may see hip-hop artists as “surrogate teachers,” as through the lyrics in their music, they can provide guidance for Black males finding their place in society.

### Make a Difference

Black male teachers equip students with the knowledge and abilities to “become active agents in charge of their own lives” (Hayes et al., 2014). Black male teachers also recognize the importance of connecting their classroom to the world of students, which can only be done when an educator understands their students. The approach used to teach Black students must not only be culturally relevant but must also understand how to deal with the manifestation of certain behaviors that often results in scrutiny, punishment, and expulsion by the hands of the majority White and female instructors (Ladson-Billings, 2011). Black male teachers are cognizant of the fear many White teachers have of Black students and how this fear is used “as an excuse to kick these brothers out of class” (Hayes et al., 2014). In changing severe consequences Black youth are subjected to, Black male teachers seeking to make a difference take it upon themselves to guide students in controlling their anger and other behaviors that may be used as justification for removing them from classrooms. Many teachers in the education system have biases toward Black children in assuming that their anger issues and lack of motivation are the reason their success is hindered. Black male teachers understand the “injuries systematically inflicted on Black children” and have a desire to disrupt the seemingly continuous cycle of children being kicked out of school and ultimately ending up in the penal system (Hayes et al., 2014). Another aspect of making a difference is ceasing to see students through the lens of a deficit perspective. Instead of viewing Black students from a historically negative standpoint, Black teachers understand the historic conditions and treatment that have inhibited the success of Black students. Ultimately, Black teachers’ desire to make a difference in students’ lives prepares Black students for a world that may not accept or view them the way they see themselves.

### What Can We Do to Support Black Male Teachers?

There has been a robust surge in research around Black male teacher recruitment over the past 20 years (Black Male Donor Collaborative, 2010; Bristol & Goings, 2018; Brooms, 2020; Brown & Butty, 1999; Brown & Thomas, 2020; Green & Martin, 2018; Lewis & Toldson, 2013; Norton, 2005; Walker, 2020). Local recruitment efforts include incentives like salary increases, signing bonuses, and high school programs like the Black Male Teaching Initiative. The Black Male Teaching Initiative is focused on “nurturing Black males’” cultural, emotional, and social needs while simultaneously offering experiential learning opportunities to engage in various crucial elements associated with success in college such as mentoring, involvement in social activities and organizations, and tutoring (Williams & Lewis, 2020).

Recruitment efforts on the college level include a collaboration among Indiana University of Pennsylvania, California University of Pennsylvania, Community College of Allegheny County, and Park Point University, which aim at increasing the number of Black males in education (Millward, 2014). The program encompasses enhanced outreach efforts and the cultivation of strategies to enhance Black male academic success. This includes recruitment seminars geared toward counselors, college recruiters, and family members and forming mentoring programs in surrounding communities. The program’s goal is to begin establishing relationships with young Black males at the middle and high school level and give them an early introduction into the teaching profession, as well as the support they need to excel. Nevertheless, expansive recruitment efforts must be met with just as expansive retention support (rtmadminnpc, 2011).

The Call Me MISTER program (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) is a large-scale multi-institutional-level recruitment effort that includes 25 participating colleges and universities and 9 National Partner Schools (Clemson University, 2022). Call Me MISTER was founded at Clemson University in 2000 to recruit and train Black male elementary school teachers (Norton, 2005). Call Me MISTER programs give students support both financially and academically, provide leadership development, and encourage opportunities to for community service, while preparing Black men to successfully enter the teaching profession as change agents. Students (Misters) in the program also assist with program recruitment encourage on campus and through their participation in program presentations across the country (W. K. Kellogg Foundation, 2017). Other large-scale efforts to increase the number of Black men serving as classroom teachers include initiatives like the U.S. Department of Education’s TEACH Campaign (Brown & Butty, 1999; Davis et al., 2013). The TEACH campaign was “designed to raise awareness of the teaching profession” and bring more young people, especially those belonging to certain demographics, into the teaching profession (U.S. Department of Education, 2021). The program also gives aspiring educators the tools to help them become successful.

#### Improve the Educational Experiences of Black Boys

If there is a sincere desire to increase the number of Black male teachers across the United States, then real efforts need to be made to improve the experiences that Black boys have in P–12 settings. In Goings and Bianco (2016), the Black boys interviewed share that their teachers’ consistently low expectations of them (fueled by racial microaggressions) made them feel inadequately prepared for academic success. Moreover, overwhelmingly oppressive and discriminatory policies and practices that lead to excessive rates of hypervisibility, high school dropouts, out-of-school suspensions, and the disproportionate referrals to special education are evidence of the overall negative experiences Black boys face in America’s public schools (Ferguson, 2001; Gause, 2008; Goings & Bianco, 2016; Howard, 2008, 2014; Kunjufu, 1985; Lynn, 2006a). When Black boys are adultified and criminalized in the schoolhouse, schools become unsafe, unsupportive spaces. Thus, they are less likely to spend their college careers pursuing careers in education, as they tend to not desire to spend their adult lives working in schools (becoming, in essence, part of the very system that perpetuated negativity upon them). Therefore, if the desire is to see more Black male teachers, then school systems must do the work to make schools and schooling a more genuinely supportive and safe space for Black boys.

#### Improve the Academic Experiences of Black Male Preservice and Novice Teachers

Instructors at institutions of higher learning are often challenged with the unsurmountable task of working to undo much of the damage that has been done during Black boys’ tenure as P–12 students. In fact, faculty can play “a pivotal role in reversing the negative academic and social perceptions of black students” (Green & Martin, 2018, p. 3). However, many teacher education programs are failing young Black males because they are also riddled with “faculty bias about students of color, the feeling of isolation, and [the lack of] culturally responsive teaching practices in teacher preparation programs” (p. 4). Like the P–12 teachers mentioned earlier in this piece, faculty bias about Black male students’ preparedness can manifest as racial microaggressions and lower expectations of success. This faculty bias must be acknowledged, targeted, and corrected in order to raise preservice teacher expectations and improve their academic experiences.

Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland have partnered with Howard University to implement a program specifically for African American males to rectify the negative impact and to improve retention rates. They found that local education agencies (school districts) should establish support systems that involve racially/culturally diverse mentors who trained to facilitate meaningful mentoring activities with Black male teachers on instructional strategies, resource development, and culturally appropriate classroom management (Brown & Thomas, 2020, p. 290). By offering this kind of wraparound support to teachers, the teachers are able to provide more culturally relevant and responsive learning experiences for their students. This is one of various efforts that can be used to promote the recruitment and retention of Black male educators.

#### Demonstrate Value for the Cultural Capital Black Men Bring to the Classroom

Those calling for a solution to this crisis call for the teaching force to reflect the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of its students and for teachers to “deviate from traditional mono-cultural approaches” (Green & Martin, 2018, p. 4). Black male teachers are not only culturally familiar with their students, but their shared experiences allow them to connect on a level of comprehension where teaching goes beyond the classroom material, and they are most readily able to help Black boys understand how to live in a world that doesn’t always accept them for who they are. Teachers who are culturally competent are needed to successfully reach and teach Black students in a way that promotes their learning and achievement, motivates them, and connects with them. Schools in the United States not only need Black male teachers to diversify the profession but also need Black male teachers whose pedagogical approaches incorporate culture and common interests to build connections with students (Ladson-Billings, 1995; Lynn, 2006b; Howard, 2014). Black male teachers serve as a representation of a Black man becoming what society said he could not or did not want him to be, and this success posits the Black male teacher as a walking counternarrative for the children he teaches (Tafari, 2013). It is crucial for teachers to be familiar with their students’ cultural, socioeconomic, and linguistic backgrounds so that they may be able to successfully relate the curriculum to the students’ holistic lived experience (Hayes et al., 2014).

#### Provide Long-Term Incentives

Simply deeming Black male teachers as role models, attracting them with hefty signing bonuses, and then placing them in urban classrooms will not rectify the challenges Black students face; the challenges are much more robust than that. Schools need teachers who will be active and committed for the long term because children need continuity in cultural practices in the classroom (Brown, 2009). A 2018 study by the Brookings Institution looked at Schools and Staffing Survey data from school districts across the country to determine if financial incentives impact minority teacher retention. Brookings found that though school districts offer recruitment incentives, like signing bonuses and relocation help, the incentives tend not to be specific to teacher race or ethnicity.

Moreover, urban schools districts more frequently offer rewards that focus on retention, like incentives for excellent teaching (Harper, 2021). The National Education Association asserts that retention has as much or more to do with the national shortage of teachers of color than recruitment (Long, 2017). Teachers of color report dissatisfaction with working conditions caused by institutional racism as the main reason for leaving the profession, for example, the criminalization of students, having their ideas dismissed by White colleagues, and being regularly called upon to act as disciplinarians (Long, 2017). Thus, school districts that focus on improving overall school conditions and invest in creating teacher leaders may yield higher teacher retention. One such leadership program is the National Education Association’s Teacher Leadership Institute, in which teachers of color comprise 50% of the cohort and are being trained on how to become formal and informal leaders (Long, 2017). Furthermore, long-term incentives, like leadership programs, salary increases for all teachers, increased financial resources and school-based personnel, and community programs that support family involvement, will not only attract and retain Black male teachers, but these strategies will also enhance the overall status of the profession, making teaching a more viable profession again.

### Conclusion

Scholars like Lynn (2006b), Howard (2008), Kunjufu (1985), Bridges (2009), and Tafari (2013) concur that an increase in Black male teachers in the United States is an appropriate and valid approach to facing the challenges faced by young Black men in school. However, a simple increase in the quantity of Black male teachers is not a simple solution at all. Many Black male students in public schools and teacher education programs face a myriad of barriers that influence their decisions to choose careers as teachers. These barriers include, but are not limited to, a lack of teachers who look like them in P–12 classrooms, a lack of appreciation for the cultural capital these students bring to the classroom, the stigma associated with the teaching profession, stereotypes associated with doing what has been historically known as “women’s work,” and low pay.

A recent study by Colorado State University asserted that Black male teachers have been influential on the test scores and “improved discipline records of black boys” (Green & Martin, 2018, p. 1) even in predominantly Black, urban schools that are desegregated, underfunded, and insufficiently supplied with the quality human and technological resources to ensure success for all students. Black students are suffering from the consequences of a system that was designed for them to fail (Duncan-Andrade & Morell, 2008). For this reason, U.S. public schools need a diverse array of teachers who are passionate about providing care, mentoring, and academic guidance to students of color in order to eliminate the “opportunity gap” in P–12 education (Schott Foundation for Public Education, 2019). Therefore, though Black male teachers aren’t the only solution to this enigma, they are a very necessary piece of the puzzle.

### Acknowledgments

I (Janeva Wilson) express my gratitude to the Winston-Salem State University Simon Green Atkins Scholar Society for presenting me with the Chancellor’s scholarship, which provided me with the opportunity to become an academic researcher.

I (Dawn Hicks Tafari) acknowledge the faculty and staff in the Winston-Salem State University Department of Education for their support throughout the process of completing this manuscript.