“I’ve always dreamed of being a teacher and this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Kezelee Jones, an 18-year-old student attending Normandale Community College as part of the school’s Sirtify program designed to target and prepare Black men interested in teaching for an education degree.
Jones aspires to become a middle school history teacher once he’s finished college.
Women have traditionally dominated the teaching profession. Some 76 percent of schoolteachers are women, and nearly 80 percent of teachers in the U.S. are white, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“Here we have an alarming disproportionate rate of Black male teachers and that caused us to ask lots of questions and it also called us to action,” said Marvis Kilgore, Sirtify program coordinator at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Kilgore says Black male teachers make up 1.2 percent of the teacher workforce in Minnesota. Overall, Black teachers make up a little more than 1,500, according to 2021 Minnesota Teacher Supply and Demand report.
There are more than 101,000 Black students enrolled in Minnesota’s public schools, and given the ratio of the number of Black teachers to Black students, the impact of having a Black male teacher could be noteworthy for students.
“One of the things that really stood out to me was the achievement gap between white students and African-Americans, they’re the worst in the U.S. and being from Mississippi it was quite alarming,” Kilgore said referencing Minnesota’s education achievement gap.
A new study by Donors Choose finds Black male teachers make up only 2 percent of teachers across the country, but they tend to spend nearly three hours more than teachers of other racial identities tending to their students outside the classroom.
A UNC report found that Black boys having a Black teacher at a young age boosts education attainment, and they experience lower rates of discipline largely because Black teachers have higher expectations for Black students, which motivates the students to perform better.
Kilgore says the Sirtify program is designed to close the achievement gap for Black students by getting more Black male teachers in the mix. “[The Sirtify] program meets the needs of the community and fill a much-needed gap as it relates to representation in the teacher population,” Kilgore said.
Normandale Community College launched the Sirtify program, funded by grants and donations, in the fall of 2021 and has more than a half dozen Black men ages 18 to 41-years-old in the program. Sirtify recruits men who identify as Black, African or African-American.
Once students are accepted into the college and the Sirtify program, they are given access to leadership and cultural competency training, academic and professional support as they transition from the community college into a four-year college or university to complete their education degree.
Students also receive an annual scholarship up to $10,000 which covers books, tuition, and needed supplies.
“We give them professional support, leadership training, cross cultural and intercultural training as well as academic support,” Kilgore said.
Kezelee Jones is excited to continue the Sirtify program and eventually lead a classroom himself. Both of his parents are educators, so going into teaching seemed like a natural fit for Jones. He is looking forward to making an impact on his future Black and brown students because he believes having a shared lived experience as an African-American will help him connect better with students.
“I want my future classroom to be a place where students can come and feel comfortable and if students do act up and if students do make me feel like I don’t want to be there anymore, we can work together to change that, we can make it a place where I feel comfortable with teaching and students feel comfortable being caught and being in school,” Jones said.