A group of college professors and administrators in Pennsylvania have come together to launch a new initiative that aims to attract more Black men into the teaching profession.
The professors and administrators come from several universities and colleges, including Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Point Park University and Community College of Allegheny County.
Together, they have launched the Black Men Teaching Initiative, which is using workshops, mentorship programs and other resources to persuade more African-American men to attend college and consider a career in teaching.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, less than 2 percent of teachers in the U.S. are Black males.
Robert Millward, an education professor at IUP and the founder of the Black Men Teaching Initiative, said the program will have to tackle the current perceptions about teaching to encourage more Black men to get into the classrooms.
“They say that teachers don’t make much,” Millward said. “They see teaching as a woman’s profession. They say, ‘I didn’t have a good experience in school, so why would I want to spend life teaching?’ ”
Millward explained that some negative perceptions of teaching are rooted deeply in America’s history of racism and segregation.
He said the 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared segregation in schools unconstitutional, had a negative impact on Black teachers’ careers.
“The African-Americas were bused over to the white schools,” he said. “It wasn’t a two-way route. Many Black principals and teachers lost their jobs. The [number of] African-American teachers was almost cut by half, going from 80,000 nationwide in 1954 to 42,000 in 1965.”
For the teachers who were offered jobs at the white schools, they were paid much less and secured fewer leadership positions.
Today, many young men are in need of positive role models both inside and outside the classroom, and Walter Lewis said the new initiative has the power to provide them with that.
Lewis is a student advocate and program leader at the Homewood Children’s Village and has been involved with the Black Men Teaching Initiative.
“A lot of the students call me ‘dad’ or ‘uncle,’” he said. “I am often the positive, male role model. They need someone who can say, ‘Don’t do that’ – someone who is not afraid of them.”
Rich Milner, a professor at University of Pittsburgh who specializes in urban education, believes that if more young Black men saw the impact that a teacher has on the lives on their students, they might reconsider their negative perception of the profession.
However, Milner noted that increasing the number of Black male teachers is not enough to achieve the ultimate goal of creating a diverse and supporting environment for Black students in the classroom.
It is also the responsibility of the community to support teachers embarking on what can be a challenging journey.
“Black male teachers can serve as role models, especially for Black male students, but what are we going to do to support Black male teachers who take on these other layers of responsibility?” he said.
Nina Esposito-Visgitis, the president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, agreed.
“We need a diverse population of teachers, but we need to make sure that all our teachers get the special training that urban teachers need,” she said.