By Kristen A. Graham, Staff Writer
On Friday, Nate Bowling will board a plane to head to Philadelphia, a hot spot for a national conversation on an issue of growing prominence in education.
“We can’t continue to go on having a school system in which the people in the front of the room don’t match even remotely the rest of the people in the room,” said Bowling, a Washington state teacher of the year and veteran Tacoma social studies teacher.
Nationally, just 2 percent of the nation’s teachers are black men. In the Philadelphia School District, where 54 percent of students are black, the numbers are slightly better. Still, just under 5 percent of teachers, or fewer than 400, are black men.
In Philadelphia, Bowling will join 300 other educators for the first national conferenceof the Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, a local group established to double the number of black men teaching in Philadelphia by 2025. The theme is “Stay Woke,” and the goal is to discuss activism and advocacy, to talk about how to make the nation’s teaching force more representative of the children it educates.
“In the past, people would say, ‘It would be nice to have more black men in the classroom,’ but now there’s research, and there’s a sense of urgency around the issues,” said Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker and a founder of the fellowship. “What’s impeding progress for students of color? Not having a mirror is one thing.”
William Anderson, a social studies teacher at Manual High School in Denver, was born and raised in that city. The experiences his students are having at home and in their neighborhoods are familiar to him.
“It just helps build relationships,” said Anderson, who is attending the Philadelphia conference. His experience as a black man also informs what he demands in his students, he said.
“I can say, ‘I’m going to hold you to this high standard because I know what the world expects of you, what the world is going to put you through once you leave this bubble of school,’ ” said Anderson.
There are 80,000 teachers in Washington state, where Bowling works. Fewer than 500 are black men.
And he can understand why so few are moved to enter the profession — many had discouraging or even traumatizing experiences in school, for starters.