One of the greatest decisions I ever made in life was to become an educator.
Becoming that which I never had during my K-12 experiences—a Black male teacher—has provided me the greatest professional joy. It is because I have the pleasure to teach African people history in a way that is antithetical to how they were taught history — antithetical to how I was taught history.
Not only that, but as an educator, I am also a cheerleader, a mentor, and a trusted advisor. What enabled me to be that has less to do with my skills and competence (although that helps), but more so my compassion and care for the people of the community and their children. My students are me and I am them.
Chances are if you talk to any Black educator they’ll tell you something similar to what I just said. Yet, Black teachers more than anybody else leave the profession because they are taxed for being Black—an invisible tax. That is, a posture towards Black teachers expecting them to discipline Black children, serve as Black cultural and racism interpreters for white people, and teach Black children respectability in a white institutional space where they are not regarded for their content knowledge.
And yet it doesn’t make sense to push Black people out of classrooms in light of the teacher shortages all across the country.
School districts everywhere are trying to figure out how to fill vacant teaching positions. I, quite naturally, advocate for districts to hire more Black teachers because Black teachers have a great positive impact on Black student achievement. That’s because Black teachers see themselves in Black children and are invested in a way that non-Black teachers are not.
But the truth is with all of the anti-critical race theory nonsense nationwide in addition to the invisible tax, being an educator while Black isn’t the most secure position. Schools may or may not provide Black teachers the agency to accomplish the social justice aims that they desire through their teaching.
So, what should they do in light of the challenges they face? What should someone interested in teaching, who is Black, do to be successful and not be driven out of the classroom at the same time?
First, make sure that entering the profession is done for the right reason — that is to provide Black children with what they need: your presence, your power, and your praxis.
Second, you must strategically identify where you want to teach and who you want to teach. It makes all the difference. For example, if you are a history teacher who is Black with the desire to teach truth in a majority-white school district, be prepared for the backlash and threats to your job and possibly your life.
Third, find a district where you are not the only Black teacher. Find a school building where you are not alone. Sadly, there are no formal networks offered by districts to support Black educators. But Black educators can form and have formed their own support systems amongst one another. It would be wise for any Black teacher to work in proximity with other Black teachers.
Lastly, find a school with a Black parent advocacy group. As an educator, I can’t tell you how important it is to have the parents on your side. Not that a Black educator can’t have white parents on their side but a district with a strong cadre of Black parents can help make it easier for a Black educator to achieve social justice aims in the classroom.
Black children certainly need more Black teachers. Black teachers should be sure to put on their life jackets before taking the plunge.