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Memphis Program Aims to Increase the Number of Male Educators of Color

  • “None of my teachers look like me,” is a common refrain of African-American male students in the nation’s public school systems, and it is not a surprising observation. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only two percent of public school educators nationally are black males. 

    Shelby County Schools in Memphis is working to expose young African-American males to role models that look like them, in the form of African-American male teachers, by creating a new program designed to diversify its teaching force.  

    The Secure the Chalk Educator Fellowship program aims to recruit more men of color as teachers for the 100,000-student school district, Tennessee’s largest. In addition to recruiting, the program also places emphasis on induction and retention, believing that recruitment alone will not solve the minority-teacher shortage if those same teachers stay with the district for only a few years.  Secure the Chalk

    “We are focused on induction, recruitment and retention of over 50 men of color to classrooms in grades K-5 in 2020,” said Michael Lowe, the district’s equity officer, in an email to the Urban Educator.   

    The district held its first “Fellowship” session in October of last year, and four more sessions will be held before the 2019-2020 school year ends. Approximately 55 African-American male teachers participated in the first two sessions, which were led by veteran principals and novice teachers.  

    The educators discussed their teaching experiences and listened to one another as they worked to better enhance their ability to effectively teach all students, regardless of race or gender. Sessions also focused on educators learning strategies to develop a more equitable and high-quality instructional program for all students at their school.   

    “At our inaugural Secure the Chalk Educator Fellowship, we discussed the need to reflect on our relationships to power and privilege as we help move our [minority] students toward better educational opportunities,” said Lowe. “Secure the Chalk is essentially about the law of attracting educators, who will then recruit more educators into this fellowship.” 

    Open to all teachers, the district advertised the program in local media and sent personal invitations from Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray. Participants are not given a stipend to attend, but they do receive the professional development points that count toward teaching licensure and certification for renewal.  

    Growing the Pipeline 

    According to local television news station FOX 13, in 2019 there were more than 5,800 teachers working in Shelby County Schools, but fewer than 800 were black men.  

    Equity officer Lowe attributes this number to a variety of factors, including teaching not being a top career choice for black men and high teacher turnover, as black teachers are more likely than white teachers to leave their jobs.  

    He also noted that a challenge black male teachers face is that they are often assigned to act as surrogate fathers and chief disciplinarians in the classroom. “We want every black male teacher to be looked at as a resource in all school settings, and not just as a relief responder for students who may be difficult to teach,” said Lowe. “That means improving the working conditions in underserved schools.”  

    In July, the district launched its African-American Male Empowerment initiative to help the district’s black male students succeed through equity, education and empowerment.  Among the objectives of the initiative is increasing black male students’ access and exposure to rigorous instruction, increasing attendance rates, developing mentoring and tutoring programs, and recruiting more male teachers of color through the Secure the Chalk Educator Fellowship.  

    “One obvious solution to underachievement among Shelby County Schools students is to diversify and support our teaching force,” said Superintendent Ray. “Our launch of our African-American Male Empowerment maintains the need to retain, induct, support, and grow our teachers, and look to those with similar backgrounds as our boys to challenge existing biased views and attitudes at the school level.” 

    District officials hope the Secure the Chalk Educator Fellowship will grow the pipeline of black male educators applying for positions in the Shelby County Schools, reduce attrition of black male educators in the district and expand the fellowship’s network, doubling the number of members, stakeholders and program partners. 

    In an effort to measure the success of the program, exit surveys will be given; but the success of the program will be based on the growth and retention of teachers of color in the district. 

    Lowe strongly believes that efforts to recruit more black men into education pay off. “Black students are half as likely to be placed in gifted programs, even if they have the same test scores as their white peers; but when black students are taught by black teachers, the racial gap largely disappears,” said Lowe. “If schools doubled the number of black male teachers, the black-white suspension disparity could be cut in half.”