Black Teachers Changed My Life, and Now I Want to Listen to Their Challenges

By Brian L. Love

Below is my continued effort to support Black teachers and their struggle with getting the support and recognition they deserve. My motivation is this: I was educated and supported by many Black teachers who understood me and my struggles as a young man trying to figure out who I am as a DPS student.

The following is the next part of Education Trust’s well-developed piece on Black educators, Through Our Eyes, that I shared last month. Here is a powerful excerpt from that report that I encourage you to read and hear the voice of your children's educators of color. 

Teachers have indicated that being labeled as the disciplinarian meant that their colleagues and administrators believed they could only teach the troublesome or lower performing students. This tension resulted in yet another area of frustration: Because of Black teachers’ strengths in classroom management, they were not afforded the opportunity to teach students performing at other performance levels. Teachers told us that they rarely get an opportunity to advance to teaching courses that recognize them as subject matter experts, such as honors or Advanced Placement. This was frustrating because they want to learn to teach new things and enhance their professional skills.

“‘You do it so well, let’s just keep you here.’ If I’m doing the ABCs every day, I never really get to do anything of a higher caliber. I think a lot of times, as African American teachers, we get stuck in a certain group, because you do it well.”
“I’ll teach the low level, but I have to have a high level to balance it out, so that for one, I can actually talk to people during the course of the day who care, and so that I can make sure that I’m still knowing stuff.”

PROVING THEIR WORTH

Black teachers expressed that they were often perceived as subpar educators. The assumption that Black teachers are best to teach Black children creates a subtle — and obviously inaccurate —undercurrent that Black teachers do not have the ability to teach all children. One teacher noted, “I can deal with all kids, so put me in another class, and let me see how that goes.” Several teachers expressed a tension between wanting the opportunity to teach at different levels and with diverse populations and being happy and committed to teaching Black children.

Another perception that Black teachers revealed is that they are often viewed as not as educated or as knowledgeable as their counterparts. Black teachers encountered this from administrators, parents, and students. Their qualifications were often openly questioned, and several teachers shared stories about having to explicitly mention where they earned their degrees and which certifications they held in order to be taken seriously by parents or administrators.

“I think one of the challenges I dealt with was convincing parents that our decisions are the right decisions. And I say that because a lot of parents would look to the White teachers and whatever they say was golden. There was no questioning them. Whatever they said was the right thing. But when it came to the African American teachers, it was always a question. There was always some pushback. There was some uncertainty around ‘what is it exactly? Why do you know that?’ And so I think that was one of the challenges I had, having to always go an extra step to convince people that what we’re doing is the right thing.”

The dismissal of Black teachers as experts and professionals (beyond discipline) led Black teachers to feel they were passed over for advancement opportunities, despite being just as — or more — qualified than their colleagues.

“I think its just stereotypes that are there, that exist of people of color that we are not as educated or knowledgeable as our counter [parts]. I think that mindset is still there, that fixed mindset that’s there. And so I think it creates the challenge of seeing me as someone who is informed and educated and can contribute just as well as anyone else sitting at the table. And so you have to get beyond that mindset, first of all, in order to even offer me a position or feel like I’m qualified for an advancement.”

SUPPORTING THE WHOLE STUDENT

Black teachers expressed a sense of obligation to teach Black students well beyond the academic curriculum. Because of this, they experienced additional professional and personal stressors. It was often noted that their sense of obligation, and the stress that goes along with it, was intensified by their limited representation in the teaching workforce and the field of education at large. Teachers felt particularly aware of their small number when looking at district and state representation and attending professional development, which often did not cater to the kinds of schools they worked in or the kinds of issues they faced. This lack of adequate resources and support often led Black teachers to navigate challenges on their own and rely on whatever they had to in order to serve their students.

“There are a lot of challenges, and there will be a lot of challenges because we are a minority of people who teach in the teaching profession. There are not a lot of us.”

In our study, we found Black teachers overwhelmingly spoke about the additional responsibilities they face in serving underserved children. Black teachers felt a responsibility to nurture Black children as whole beings and be a stable support for them. Many of these responsibilities were personal obligations teachers felt to take care of Black students and make sure their needs, academic and non-academic, were being met.

“Well, I don’t think I can separate being a parent from my job as a teacher. Because I’m teaching my own children. I look at the children that I serve as an extension of me. I want them to go out and be their very best, because they represent me.”

Academically, Black teachers spoke about feeling a burden to serve Black students well because another teacher may not. Black teachers shared a fear that if they did not teach, Black children would not be held to high expectations or encouraged to reach academic success.

“I felt it was my obligation to teach my students, I mean my race. I knew that they will put them in a corner somewhere and just leave them there, and I felt it was my — you know, it was my — as a teacher, I felt I had to. I had to.”

 

If you are a teacher, please share your thoughts @DSchoolsRock on Twitter or like and join our Facebook page at Detroit Schools Rock.