By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Across the nation, another school year has arrived, and many urban and rural public-school divisions are facing worrisome issues.
For many urban school divisions serving majority-minority student populations, one is finding enough qualified Black teachers, especially male.
This coincides with the data showing that Black male students from low income households are struggling in the public-school setting, a factor that the presence of Black male teachers could help to alleviate, research reveals.
But all school divisions are hard-pressed to find enough Black instructors of either gender.
With the exception of a few divisions in Virginia, 85 percent of the teachers in the state are White and female.
This mirrors the trend nationally.
There are varying factors that contribute to this trend and for decades it has not gone unnoticed by Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) like Norfolk State University and others that historically have produced the majority of the nation’s African-American educators.
However, HBCUs are experiencing the same drop in enrollment in teacher preparation programs as their non-HBCU counterparts.
As the current teacher pool speeds toward retirement age, a Brookings Report recognizes 300,000 African-American teachers would need to enter the field to close the diversity gap as more than 1 million Caucasian teachers exit the report cited in a 2016 report.
The issue at hand is a two-prong matter: locating and recruiting African-American males for teacher preparation programs. The second, equally pressing issue, is providing the support necessary for successful matriculation through a program that leads to becoming a fully licensed educator.
NSU is located in a city that serves a majority Black student population but employs more White than Black teachers in its classrooms.
As the new school year opens at NSU, Dr. Denelle Wallace-Alexander, Dean of the School of Education, and her colleagues said they are keeping a close eye on the number of Black male students majoring in the various disciplines under the NSU Education Department umbrella this fall.
Last year it was 12. With incoming freshman, Dr. Wallace hopes that number will jump to 20 or more this year.
Over the past decade, Dr. Wallace and her department, in collaboration with other schools, have conducted research on the shortage of Black males in public education and why the trend still exists decades after it was acknowledged.
In 2019, the research findings of Dr. Wallace-Alexander and co-author Dr. Linda M. Gagen’s were published as an article titled “African-American Males’ Decisions to Teach: Barriers, Motivations, and Supports Necessary for Completing a Teacher Preparation Program.”
The purpose of the article was to explore two lines of inquiry related to African-American male educators. First, to examine the barriers, supports, and motivations related to K-12 African-American male educators completing an accredited teacher education program at a 4-year historically Black university. Second, looking at the potential benefits and disadvantages of attending an HBCU from the perspective of an African-American male teacher.
That research has revealed some very troubling factors that contribute to recruiting, preparing, and supporting them to survive in a career dominated by Black and White females.
Research for the article was based on interviews with 12 unidentified African-American male educators employed at “elementary and secondary levels within a southeastern, urban school division which was also not revealed.”
The researchers highlighted factors leading to their successful matriculation through the education program and the attainment of their teacher licensure credentials.
It also cited the barriers that contribute to the shortage of Black male teachers in the public schools setting.
Wallace-Alexander noted that the cost of attending a public college for low-income students can be daunting, considering the fear they have of compiling debt from student loans.
Though, many male students access college with scholarships for participation in the band, athletics, or others because of stellar academics or other talents coming out of high school, the hidden costs of a teacher preparation program may exceed these grant and scholarship offerings.
Even if funding is not an issue, Wallace-Alexander noted in her research that a viable support and mentoring system must be in place to ensure that male students matriculate through the undergraduate rungs of the preparation for the classroom.
She said a key factor is having enough male professors to mentor and encourage them in the university setting.
Once they leave the university classroom setting, there are factors related to securing and enduring educational internships or “practice teaching,” to firsthand experience.
Will they have the funding, personally, to acquire the proper attire, transportation, housing, and other resources to sustain their pre-teaching phase?
Dr. Wallace-Alexander said that while business sector internships are paid, most practice or teaching internships are not.
This places economic pressure on the students who need to work to feed and house themselves.
As they matriculate through a teacher preparation program, the cost of state-required examinations to secure their credentials and license to teach can be a challenge, Dr. Wallace-Alexander said. This is another financial burden leading up to and during the “internship phase.”
For most students in a teacher preparation program, there are three such exams: The Virginia Communications Literacy Assessment (VCLA); Reading for Virginia Educators (RVE), (for Elementary and Special Education teachers); and the PRAXIS II content area exams, which measures their level of competence in their chosen educational field.
“These tests will cost $150 a pop,” said Dr. Wallace. “If they fail the first time, they have to take it again, and they do not get a discount on the cost.”
Progressive lawmakers and the Virginia Education Association (VEA) have complained about the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) abandoning the “diversity teaching grants” which were placed in the state budget to assist disadvantaged students in paying the cost of the examinations.
If a student should survive the academic, preparatory, and credentialing phases of the passage to the classroom, retaining enthusiasm and interest in the field is the next hurdle for retaining Black male teachers.
For three years newly minted teachers work on a probationary status.
But Dr. Wallace-Alexander’s report identifies a number of factors that may discourage Black male teachers.
Dr. Wallace-Alexander said the subjects who participated in her research said they “grew tired” of having to be cautious to avoid making their mostly White female peers feel “uncomfortable.”
“They said they got tired of avoiding raising their voice or appearing angry,” said Wallace-Alexander. “Black males appear to be angry and thus scary to their White counterparts. Then there are the microaggressions or having their knowledge on their subject area questioned and challenged.
“They also get tired of being the disciplinarian among the teachers in the schools,” Wallace-Alexander said, “or having the magic potion for dealing with disruptive students.”
Dr. Wallace-Alexander said, “We need better training for administrators in our schools to address this issue and a better retention program.”
“The level of support is pitiful at times from the administrators and the parents,” said Wallace-Alexander. “Parents especially need to be cooperative and collaborative to establish strong teacher-parent partnerships to support Black male teachers in the classroom.”