Why Black/Latino Male Teachers aren't as Effective in the Classroom... Yet

10/18/2010 04:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Jose Vilson Math teacher, writer, activist, father, @teachingquality, @edutopia, author of This Is Not A Test (Spring 14), anti-hero. The teacher Gotham deserves.

There's plenty of discussion about the need for more black/Latino males becoming teachers, capped by a recent discussion by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in which he promoted a program (TEACH) to help improve those numbers. In Jacksonville, FL, for instance, The Achieve Instill Inspire Foundation is looking to encourage more black males as teachers across the state by supplementing their education degrees.

This year, I consider my math classroom an anomaly of sorts. We have not one but two black males teaching 25 or so students mathematics. While it's true that it's my only math class (I'm a hybrid math teacher/math coach/data analyst/web designer), it's also productive because the kids seem to respond in kind. In a CTT (collaborative team teaching) class, we have more room to differentiate for students and plan our day accordingly. Plus, the students get to see two adults in front of them in an academic role. Honestly, that matters.

And it does. To an extent.

But the studies about black/Latino male teachers to their student counterparts show a different picture. In a presentation by Ron Ferguson, Senior Lecturer in Education and Public Policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Harvard Kennedy School, Ferguson asserted that maybe black males shouldn't be teachers but guidance counselors and mentors. At first, I was shocked. Then, I thought about classrooms across the nation and just nodded in complete understanding.

Black and Latino male teachers aren't as effective as they could be just yet, and it has everything to do with the roles they take on in schools.

They often go in with good intentions. They've graduated with their degree in a strong specialty, and got their license in a subject related to the topic. However, they're often noticed immediately as having a strong connection to the more "difficult" students in the room and thus have a voice with them. A more astute administrator would keep them in the classroom because it means that the teacher has that much more leverage when teaching the class. Plus, it pushes that teacher to become a better practitioner of their craft.

Instead, they're thrust into the hallway either as someone who needs to resolve another teacher's "problems" or as the dean for the floor. They're the ones asked to find out who pulled the fire bell, who called the other teacher a sexist, or who's getting inducted into which gang. They're the ones who have to break up the fights, tell the kid to pick his pants up, and address the use of the n-word. As they're asked to do these things for student discipline, they're pulled further from the academic aspects of their lives, and from developing relationships with young males as non-judgmental role models.

That's a disservice to the legacy of the great Black and Latino male teaching core we can have and hope to attract in the future. It's great that so many people want to increase the number of males of color in the classroom, but it has to be done from the lens of increasing the academic potency in the class. Black male teachers are often asked to be every bit Jaime Escalante as Joe Clark, and it's unfair when that sort of expectation isn't distributed to everyone in the building.

Plus, too many black children see school as a place where they're supposed to get reprimanded and putting black educators as main executioner; we're essentially fortifying centuries-old traditions of promoting blacks as overseer in the proverbial plantation.

I'm not saying this is what happens with all black/Latino males, but it happens frequently enough. I'd like to say I carry a big stick in my class, but more often than not, it's a ruler; it's less a whip and more of a weapon for mass instruction. Many of my brethren would love to say the same. If they get to deliver one more period of instruction.