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Diane Lincoln Estes
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In our series Rethinking College, we've put a particular emphasis on showing why it's crucial to build and diversify the teaching pipeline throughout a student's academic life and the impact it can have. Geoff Bennett reports on why developing and recruiting more Black teachers is especially important for Black students to make sure they go on and get their degrees.
In our series on higher education this spring, we have looked at why it's crucial to build out and diversify the teaching pipeline.
Tonight, we focus on why developing and recruiting more Black teachers is especially important for Black students, to make sure they continue their education and finish their degrees.
Geoff Bennett has the story for our series Rethinking College.
Lee Datts, Teacher:
All right, if you are in group six, you are coming to me now.
Time for reading lessons in Lee Datts, second grade class at Mastery Prep Elementary in North Philadelphia.
Remember, read to comprehend. Let me hear that again. Read to comprehend.
Read to comprehend.
It's a common scene in classrooms across America, except for one key difference.
What did we talk about the last time I saw you all?
Sharif El-Mekki (Founder and CEO, Center for Black Educator Development):
Nationally, there are less than 2 percent of all public school teachers are Black men.
Sharif El-Mekki is the CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development. He says teachers like Lee Datts are all too rare.
Even in places like Philadelphia that is extremely diverse and about half of the student population are Black, it hovers between 4 percent or 5 percent every year.
And yet studies show, for young Black students, having a teacher who looks like them has huge long-term benefits.
Constance Lindsay, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Students in kindergarten and first grade, if they experience at least one Black teacher, they are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to enroll in college.
Constance Lindsay is an assistant professor at the UNC School of Education whose research focuses on educational equity.
What in your research has surprised you the most?
I think the outsize impact on Black boys. Across several of our studies, we find that, many times, the results are driven by persistently low-income young Black boys. So it's really important for them.
So the stakes, she says, are highest in these classrooms where most students are Black and also come from economically disadvantaged families, especially for the boys.
Thirty-nine percent less likely to drop out of high school and up to 29 percent more likely to go to college if they have a single Black teacher. Why isn't this the intervention that we're leading with?
What are you doing this summer?
Sharif El-Sharif, a former principal and teacher himself, is on a mission.
You can go to WeNeedBlackteachers.com and just see. We would love to have you. It's a paid apprenticeship. It's a job.
El-Mekki's Center for Black Educator Development is building a Black teacher pipeline, one component, paid apprenticeships at Freedom Schools Literacy Academy, where high school and college students get hands-on teaching experience.
Don't go to McDonald's and Starbucks. Come work here if you are interested in becoming a teacher. This summer, we will have almost 200 Black and brown teacher apprentices working and leading hundreds of first, second and third graders.
Joshua McQueen, Student:
At first, I really didn't like kids.
Teaching was not an obvious career path for high school junior Joshua McQueen.
I used to be scared of them, actually. It was like — because they made me so nervous because they have so much energy and stuff like that.
But when McQueen apprenticed last summer, he says one student gave him a new perspective.
Like say if we went out to recess, I'd be playing tag with them and basketball with all of them. He would be the one that was like constantly playing just because I was playing. And it made me, like, realize the impact that I can have on a kid's life.
How can you even picture yourself in the shoes of excellence when you don't see yourself?
McQueen is now taking a course his high school offers on the history and culture of Black teachers.
Often, when teachers are being prepared to teach, everything is centered in a white historical lens; 80 percent of our public schoolteachers are white. And then they're sent into predominantly Black and brown classrooms.
Imere Williams is an education major at West Chester University.
Imere Williams, College Student:
I have always wanted to be a teacher since I was 5 years old. I have loved school my entire life. I look at it as sort of a calling.
So, when you guys are writing your own sentences, I want your sentences to convey what that word means.
Twice a week, Williams student-teaches fifth graders at James Rhoads School in the West Philadelphia neighborhood where he grew up.
I think that, a lot of times, people have misconceptions of West Philadelphia students or just urban students in general that they won't amount to much, they aren't scholars, they can't learn.
Well, I grew up in this neighborhood, and I'm in college. I wanted to sort of just come back and prove that, like, students that come from urban schools can go on and do amazing, great things.
Who was described as obedient in the book?
Williams receives scholarship money through the Black Teacher Pipeline to support his education. Once he gets to five years of teaching, he will get a retention bonus.
What kind of impact do you think you have on your students?
I think they see me and they see someone that looks like them in a professional position. They see that, like, I can do that one day.
Actually, one of my students, said, like: "I want to be like you, Mr. Williams one day." And that sort of just like — first, it melted my heart, but also sort of gave like even more fire to do this work, especially in a profession where so many doubts come with it, not a lot of pay, a lot of stress, a lot of duties, but things like that sort of, like, reel you back in.
Constance Lindsay says educators like Williams are influential role models.
Seeing a college-educated Black person might sort of put a spark in you to attend college later on.
Lindsay cites another reason Black instructors can be so impactful.
My colleagues actually have a study where they show that Black teachers, on average, expect Black students to go farther.
That's the case with second grade teacher Trent Petty.
Trent Petty, Teacher:
I always tell my kids you can be the one taking care of me in 10 years. You can be my doctor, my lawyer, my mayor, my president.
The expectations are high because I believe in you.
Lee Datts acknowledges his students tell him he is a lot, because he expects so much from them.
I always tell them, I'm looking for you to be an Ivy League student, because it's easy to just give up on a child. It really is. It is a natural thing to have a day where they're off-task and they're doing this, they're doing that, and they're Black and brown.
Or you can believe in them and believe in their dream and hope and desire and hold onto that.
What did Ruby Bridges have to deal with?
Datts feels an obligation to teach his students about their shared history and culture.
What does segregation have to do with being bullied? I don't understand.
In our classroom, anybody who we learn about that's African American, I really try to make it vocal to understand the importance of what they had to go through, like, understanding your background, understanding your history.
I imagine all teachers feel a sense of responsibility. I would also imagine that you feel that even more, given that you are a Black man in a school, predominantly Black school.
My natural responsibility is just to show what a Black and brown teacher looks like. Like, if you never have another one, you know you had one.
In the long run, that could make all the difference.
Watch the Full Episode
Geoff Bennett serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour. He also serves as an NBC News and MSNBC political contributor.
Diane Lincoln Estes is a producer at PBS NewsHour, where she works on economics stories for Making Sen$e.
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