By Rann Miller
A new tradition has started at schools in cities like Atlanta, Hartford and Boston. Black men from the community, dressed in suits and other professional attire, stand outside the school doors to welcome students to the start of another year. Just like the starting lineup line at a game, where teammates receive players with high-fives, the men form an aisle for students to walk down as they approach the school doors. Students are greeted with words of encouragement, slaps on the back and head, or some dap, to signal to kids that school matters. So what could possibly be wrong with this “it takes a village” display? When those same kids enter into their schools, they see a teaching force that is predominantly female and white. The doors of the school shut with the Black men outside of the village. What kind of message does that send to kids?
I’ve come to conclude that these displays meant to encourage and uplift Black and Brown children are disingenuous at best, damaging at worst. That’s because the very school and district leaders who are great at getting Black men to show up for Soul Train-style-high-five lines do a piss poor job getting Black and Latino men in the classroom and keeping them there. Data released this summer show just how dire this situation is. Of the 4 million teachers in the US, just 2% are Black men, while another 2% are Latino men. Even when you look at teachers of color in general, the numbers don’t get much better. Nationally, just 6.7% of teachers are Black. Even in urban areas where the representation of teachers of color is greatest, the numbers show that enough isn’t being done to bring more of them into classrooms.
While it’s vitally important that students of color see adults who look like them, they need them in the classroom, not just at feel-good, high-profile welcoming events. The research is overwhelming: teachers of color are better for Black and Brown kids. Students of color who have teachers who look like them fare better academically, are more likely to attend college and are much less likely to be subject to harsh discipline. In one study, Black and Latino students preferred teachers who looked like them because Black and Latino educators better understood the challenges that come with being a racial minority. Conversely, evidence suggests that White teachers struggle to understand the role that race plays in their interactions with students of color.