Seeking solutions to a shortage of Black educators

Penn’s Graduate School of Education contributes to the conversation about the scarcity of Black men as K-12 teachers.

June 21, 2023

Pam Grossman: One of the things to think about when you think about the teaching workforce is to what extent the representation of teachers of color matches the students of color in the schools. And one of the things that in many many school districts now, the overwhelming majority of the students are students of color but a minority of the teachers are. So there's a fundamental mismatch between the racial composition of the teachers and the racial composition of the students.

Tamir Harper: Once I got into high school at the Science Leadership Academy and really started to piece together the inequities in education, I started to question the system, started to understand that less than 2% of the nation's public school teachers are Black men. And since then I've been on a trajectory of like I wanna teach, I wanna disrupt. And I look at teaching as disruption. I look at teaching as social justice. I look at teaching as political because you are teaching the next generation to be independent thinkers and advocate for what they believe in.

Jessie Harper: It is just essential to be able to see yourself. And what goes along with that is not just seeing yourself so that you can more fully imagine what could be, it's to actually have mentors that continue to encourage you.>

Tamir Harper: I have many phenomenal dynamic and brilliant Black women that came in front of me every day from elementary all the way through high school but my first Black male educator was my ninth grade year at the Science Leadership Academy. Even as I teach my students and as we read “Stamped” right now, I think sometimes of how will Matt Kay teach this book? And that's because I'm able to see myself, right, of a Black man teaching in front of students every day. Matt Kay was my first example of that.

Pam Grossman: One of the things that we're trying hard to do is to recruit more Black males into teaching. And we have multiple teacher ed programs. So the one that Tamir is in is the Urban Teacher Residency Program that places people in school so that they're teaching while they're earning their Master's degree. And that, again, is one of the pipelines that's been found to be effective is looking at more alternative models of teacher education where people can be working as they're developing their skills and gaining the credentials.

Tamir Harper: The Urban Teaching Residency Program has helped me a lot in my first year of teaching from understanding the science, and the craft, and the art of lesson planning to modifying and scaffolding lessons for individualized plans that students have. It has been a whirlwind, it has been an opportunity to learn and do the work. And for me, it was tough, right? I'm a first generation college student. I knew that I couldn't just go get a master's and not work. I did not have the luxury, and the Urban Teacher Residency Program allowed me to do both, get my masters, and teach, and apply what I'm learning every day in a master's program into my craft, and art, and science of teaching my eighth-grade students.

Pam Grossman: So I think Tamir having grown up in Philadelphia, having gone to Philadelphia schools can build a relationship and a connection to students that is very important. And the more teachers we have like Tamir the easier it will be to recruit more. Again, this is part of the challenge of where do you start, how you build and sustain a critical mass of Black male teachers who are supported to stay in the classroom, who are supported to make those connections with students but also encouraged to connect with one another?

Tamir Harper: Students from my city deserve to have Black men in front of them every day to show them what's possible. And that's what I think every Black male educator thinks that students deserve it, that this is a calling that had dignity and we're gonna be part of that profession to reimagine it, and reshape it, and ensure that Black men are able to have education as a home in the future.

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