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The failure cycle causing a shortage of black male teachers

January 6, 2017 at 6:20 PM EDT
Why are there so few black male teachers? Chris Emdin of Columbia University suggests that a cycle of failure haunts students and their teachers. Students act out, so teachers tighten the rules; more restrictions combined with dull and irrelevant curricula cause students to fail, and teachers quit -- thinking it’s their fault. Emdin raps his Humble Opinion on why the system needs to be changed.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally: Professor Christopher Emdin teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

He explains why there are so few African-American males teaching our children in tonight’s In My Humble Opinion.

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN, Columbia University Teachers College: So, when “NewsHour” asked me to write and deliver this essay about why there are so few black male teachers, I was excited. I agreed.

But I then realized that I needed to discuss this issue by presenting it in a way that kind of exemplifies the problem.

And the problem is that no one’s really listening. So, for this essay, you’re going to have to listen, but do so in a little bit of a different way.

See, like some other black cultural values and modes of expression that black male teachers and their students share and have in common, hip-hop is demonized by the public, and then it is devalued in schools.

So, whether we’re talking about dance, dress, slang, entertainment, we have these forms of culture that need to be accepted, with some limits, of course, in schools. And we do that to engage students and then to retain teachers.

When they are not accepted, students underperform, teachers get frustrated, and then they leave.

See, black youth drop out, get suspended at higher rates. Schools react about that fact, so they hire a black face. Black male went through hell, dodged a cell, got a degree. School is excited he got hired. They gave him some mentees.

Now, these mentees breeze through P.E. with ease, but at best see C’s if the course talks degrees or ratio, proportions, because math is boring, the language is anguish. They languish in their performance. Frustrated, they updated their thug image, stuck in the sewage cultural irrelevance created.

Poor instruction, boring structures. Then I’m called in to rupture. And I’m overwhelmed.

Yes, I’m black. And the kids are black, too, but what I know is right to do means breaking the school’s rules. So we leave the profession in every major city, 40 percent in Chicago, 19 in Philly, really. We can’t stand being the teachers that we hated, but they made us suspend them and punish them with bad grades.

The school system is more diverse than ever, but I never see myself amongst the faculty. And whether I do or not doesn’t make much of a difference if you hire me, retire me, and do not change the system.

Listen, like 50 percent of public school students of color, right? Eighty-two percent of those teachers are, the other, white. Less than 2 percent of those who teach are black males. One in 15 of those same males end up in jail.

Schools criminalize, and society despises us. For the black male teacher, frustrations rise in us. Now, students respond in anger and hate schools. Then the teachers respond and start tightening up the rules.

Test prep begets yet even more frustration. I prep them for a test they detest, so they fail it. Then I get blamed and nailed to the cross, as if I’m the cause of it. So, of course, I feel I’m forced to quit.

The source of this often sits at the precipice of pessimists who get to spit a less legit hypothesis about my grit, when it’s obvious that I am forced to fit in a system.

So, I quit.

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