Travis Bristol, author
This guest post was written by Dr. Travis Bristol, a former high school English teacher in New York City public schools and teacher educator with the Boston Teacher Residency program. He is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), and his research focuses on the intersection of race and gender in organizations. Travis’s dissertation on Black male teachers was awarded fellowships from the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the American Educational Research Association. He is a product of the New York City public school system.
"It almost feels like I’m in someone else’s house intruding. Like you guys are having this conversation about these things and you’re all like sort of connected and I’m kind of just here because I have to be here to eat my lunch,” suggested Peter Baldwin,1 32, a first year elementary teacher in a school with no other Black male teachers.
The experiences of Black male teachers may well parallel the experiences of Black boys in schools. Black men account for about 2% of all public school teachers. The reason, often cited, for increasing the number of Black male teachers is that by serving as role models, these recruits can improve Black boys’ schooling outcomes. While there is research (see here and here) to support the claim that students’ learning increases when assigned a same race teacher, increasing the number of Black male teachers also has the potential to benefit other stakeholders in schools. Black men are uniquely positioned to assist their colleagues, many of whom might be White and female, in designing curriculum that is culturally and gender responsive. Given the potential value-added to schools by having Black male teachers, there is little research that explores these teachers’ experiences in schools.
In 2013, I conducted a yearlong study on the school-based experiences of 27 Black male teachers in a northeastern urban school district, who accounted for approximately 10 percent of Black male teachers in the district.2 Specifically, the study included two types of schools: seven schools with one Black male teacher and seven schools with three or more Black male teachers. One of the largest studies conducted exclusively on Black male teachers, this study has implications for policymakers and school administrators looking to recruit and retain Black male teachers. (Read a two-page summary of the study here.)
One finding was that Black male teachers felt responsible for improving academic outcomes and creating environments that were socio-emotionally supportive for students of color. However, Black male teachers described feeling socially alienated and pedagogically not supported in their schools. The degree to which Black male teachers experienced alienation depended on the number of other Black male teachers in the building. “Loners,” or those participants who were the only Black man on their faculty believed they were socially alone and disconnected from the core mission of the school compared to “Groupers,” or those participants in schools with three or more Black male teachers.
One Loner, Benjamin Young, 55, is a veteran physical education teacher at a K – 8 school who suggested: “I'm a Black male so I can't get mad like people can because people don't like Black males getting mad. I can't be myself all the way… No they're going to perceive the stereotype… Angry Black male. If I raise my voice people get scared.”
Given the potential parallels between the experiences of Black male teachers and Black boys, how might district officials respond? Two recommendations: First, school districts should consider designing “differentiated professional development” opportunities. Such professional development (PD) experiences could be similar to the Boston Public School’s Male Educators of Color Executive Coaching Seminar Series, informed by the Boston Teacher Residency Male Educator of Color Networking Group, which provides a space for male educators of color to receive PD by other male educators of color. In the Boston Teacher Residency Male Educators of Color Network half of the meeting focused on providing male teachers of color with tools to address their socio-emotional needs. The second half of the meeting gave a teacher the opportunity to present a pedagogical challenge and receive feedback from his peers.
A second recommendation would be for school districts to include racial and gender awareness training for new administrators and on-going training for current administrators. PD for male teachers of color might provide a measure of support for a Black male teacher, for example, attempting to navigate a challenging work environment; however, if the culture of the school remains the same any potential benefits from a PD session might be lost.
1 I have used pseudonyms for all participants.
2 Funding for this project was provided by the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation, the Albert Shanker Institute, and both the Offices of the Provost and Diversity and Community Affairs at Teachers College, Columbia University. All inquiries should be directed to Dr. Travis J. Bristol at firstname.lastname@example.org.