Focusing on African American Male Preservice Teachers

Today’s bloggers are Samantha L. Strachan and Jillian Davis, who co-authored the article Loud and Clear: The Importance of Telling the Stories of African American Male Preservice Teachers,” which appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

Close your eyes for a few seconds and think about all the teachers who taught you.

How many of your teachers have been African American males?

If you thought about your past experiences as a student, and your answer was “none,” you are not alone. In fact, many students in today’s P–12 schools will never have the opportunity to be taught by an African American male teacher. While a number of programs and initiatives have been implemented across the country to place Black men in classrooms, there is still much work to be done.

The Problem

Educational leaders and researchers alike have focused on several issues that impact the teaching profession. One issue that continues to make headlines is the absence of African American male teachers in P–12 schools. Currently, around 2% of all teachers in the United States identify as Black males (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). This dire statistic means that concerted efforts must be made to understand how these men can be recruited and retained in classrooms as teachers. Neglecting to do so will continue to result in their absence from the classrooms and from the lives of the students who most need them.

In our article in the current issue of The Educational Forum, “Loud and Clear: The Importance of Telling the Stories of African American Male Preservice Teachers,” we advocate for understanding the perspectives of African American men on the pathway to the teaching profession. We make an argument for placing the stories of Black male teacher education candidates front and center in education. We encourage understanding of why they decide to become teachers, despite not always having had good experiences in P–12 schools as students. We also discuss how, even as preservice teachers, men of color can experience challenges that, if not confronted, can continue to hinder them from fully participating in the teaching profession.

Transforming the Profession, One Story at a Time

Stories can be powerful. Like all teachers, African American men have stories that need to be shared and heard. These stories can provide the impetus needed to transform how they experience the teaching profession. However, their stories must be told and highlighted in a way that does not perpetuate stereotypes and negative notions, but instead will further how the education and research community could make changes to ensure that Black men can fully engage with the teaching profession. This is especially true for men in teacher education programs.

Since the stories of Black male preservice teachers are rarely highlighted, it is important to use their perspectives as a foundation for understanding the specific changes needed in the teaching field, and how these changes could be implemented in a manner that allows men of color to thrive in the profession.

African American male preservice teachers are uniquely positioned to provide insights that could be transformative to the teaching field. They have made the decision to become educators, and their perspectives, especially during training, can serve as reflections for teacher education and the teaching profession.

If we want to know how we can engage African American males as educators, providing spaces for them to share their stories will be important.

Not doing so will continue to sideline a group of educators whose impact in classrooms could be great.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through March 31, 2019.

References

  1. Department of Education. (2016). The state of racial diversity in the educator workforce. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/highered/racial-diversity/state-racial-diversity-workforce.pdf

Dr. Samantha Strachan

Dr. Samantha L. Strachan is Interim Chairperson of the Department of Teacher Education and Leadership at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. She also serves as Director of the M.AL.E. (Males for Alabama Education) Initiative, a state-funded program focused on recruiting and preparing minority men for P–12 classrooms. Dr. Strachan’s research is focused on improving minority students’ participation in teacher education, particularly in the STEM fields. Her work also focuses on examining creative ways to diversify the teaching workforce. This includes sharing the stories, perspectives, and experiences of African American men on the teaching pathway.

Jillian Davis

Jillian Davis is a MEd candidate in Elementary Education at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. Her current research explores the stories of African American male preservice teachers, discussing their personal experiences, understanding their perspectives, and raising awareness of their impact on education. Jillian’s interests include the study of social justice in education, inequality, and poverty. Jillian serves as a graduate assistant.

Asking the Question: What Is the Purpose of Public Education in a Democracy?

Today’s blogger is Aaron Samuel Zimmerman, an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at Texas Tech University, whose recently published article Democratic Teacher Education: Preserving Public Education as a Public Good in an Era of Neoliberalismappears in the special issue of The Educational Forum on educator activism in politically polarized times. In that article, he argues that teacher educators play an essential role in preserving public education as a public good.

In your opinion, what is the purpose of public education?

  • To prepare students with the skills they need for the workforce?
  • To provide students with credentials that will facilitate their social mobility?
  • To cultivate the virtues that students need in order to participate as active citizens within a democracy?

Americans tend to hold multiple (and sometimes conflicting) priorities when it comes to public education (Labaree, 2011). We tend to believe that public schools can prepare students for democratic participation while simultaneously preparing students with the knowledge, skills, and credentials they need to advance in a capitalist economy. When we examine the current state of public schools in our country, however, we disturbingly find that schools tend to function almost exclusively as private businesses catering to consumers rather than as public institutions committed to preserving the public good (Ravitch, 2014).

I understand this to be just one more symptom of neoliberalism, the political and economic ideology that places a premium on privatization and self-interest. At this point, the influence of neoliberalism in our country is so prevalent that we are hardly even aware that it consistently shapes our values and decision-making (Giroux, 2008). One need look no farther than Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—and, before her, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—to see the way in which neoliberal values have crept into public education. Parents are treated as customers, schools are positioned as businesses producing a product, and students are taught how to become diligent workers (and faithful consumers) in a capitalist economy.

Sadly, teacher education tends to perpetuate neoliberal ideology. Most teacher education programs (both university-based programs as well as alternative routes to teacher certification) focus on helping teacher candidates learn how to raise student test scores (Kumashiro, 2010). Indeed, teacher quality is often measured by standardized test scores (Harris & Sass, 2011); but, unless teacher educators actively challenge this paradigm, early-career teachers will enter the profession assuming that high scores on standardized tests represent the ultimate goal of public education.

Of course, this is not to say that we should never measure student achievement or teacher quality through standardized tests. Public education in our nation, however, is in danger of being completely overtaken by this neoliberal logic. Teachers in public schools do more than help students achieve a credential; public school teachers also play a formative role in sustaining democracy by cultivating the virtuous dispositions required for democratic participation (dispositions such as open-mindedness, honesty, imagination, and generosity; see Huber-Warring & Warring, 2006). Our country’s democracy will suffer if teachers and teacher educators do not actively defend public education’s democratic purpose. We need to remind ourselves that public education can do so much more than provide students with degrees, grades, and GPAs. Public education has the potential—and, perhaps, the responsibility—to nurture democratic citizens.

Therefore, I would like to ask teachers and teacher educators the following questions:

  • What do you believe is the purpose of public education?
  • Do you actively pose this question to the aspiring teachers whom you mentor?
  • Do you pose this question to the members in the communities whom you serve?
  • What are ways that we can collectively invite teachers, students, and, indeed, all citizens to reimagine the role that public education can play in our democracy?

I titled this blog entry “Asking the Question” because, indeed, asking the question is half the battle. If we do not actively ask ourselves questions about the purpose of public education, other people will answer the questions for us . . . and those answers are likely to be justified only by a profit margin.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the special issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through August 31, 2018.

References
Giroux, H. A. (2008). Against the terror of neoliberalism: Politics beyond the age of greed. New York, NY: Paradigm.
Harris, D. N., & Sass, T. R. (2011). Teacher training, teacher quality and student achievement. Journal of Public Economics, 95(7–8), 798–812.
Huber-Warring, T., & Warring, D. F. (2006). Are you teaching for democracy? Developing dispositions, promoting democratic practice, and embracing social justice and diversity. Action in Teacher Education, 28(2), 38–52.
Kumashiro, K. K. (2010). Seeing the bigger picture: Troubling movements to end teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1–2), 56–65.
Labaree, D. F. (2011). Consuming the public school. Educational Theory, 61(4), 381–394.
Ravitch, D. (2014). Reign of error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools. New York, NY: Vintage Books.