As Teacher's Appreciation Week kicked off on Monday, Apple and Huston-Tillotson University marked the end of the first year of a first-of-its-kind program to prepare Black men for roles as teachers. As part of its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, Apple entered into a multi-year agreement with Huston-Tillotson University to provide scholarships for the program's students, called Pre-Ed Scholars, as well as hardware, software, and professional development courses for both students and faculty. Scholars are selected on the basis of financial need, academic performance, demonstration of leadership, commitment to service, and dedication to pursuing a career in the Education field. Huston-Tillotson University is the only Historically Black University (HBCU) pledging to graduate 100 Black male teachers in this program.
Lack of teacher diversity in education has been a problem for a very long time. The current makeup of the American school-age population makes the issue even more pressing. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2018 that 49.7% of all American children 0 to 17 years old were nonwhite. Most students today will go through all 13 years of their public-school education without being taught by a Black teacher.
Map: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND 2018 Population Estimates, analyzed by Rogelio Sáenz and Dudley Poston Get the dataU.S. CENSUS BUREAU 2018 POPULATION ESTIMATES...
This is also a time when our society is challenged in separating facts from fiction. Some political parties are inching closer to denialism by sponsoring state-level bills, either eliminating curriculum or requiring teachers to teach all sides of a subject, opposing critical race theory (a theory that has been around for 50 years) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project. There is no denying that what children learn in public schools reflects the skewed nature of curricula, the instructions, and those delivering them. Some scholars, including the Temple University African American, studies professor Ama Mazama, have pointed to the rise in homeschooling among Black families looking for their children to have a balanced view of history, literature characters and narratives they can see themselves into and more.
Having more Black teachers within the school system would challenge one-sided portrayals of the world while offering insights to students of all backgrounds. We can also not underestimate the positive impact that seeing Black men in a position of authority can have on white students.
The positive impact of Black teachers on Black students has been documented in studies for years. In a 2017 study published by the Institute of Labor Economics, researchers found that low-income Black male elementary school students taught by a Black teacher in the third, fourth, or fifth grades were 39% less likely to drop out of high school. The study also highlighted that pairing Black teachers with Black students of both sexes between the third and fifth grades increased their aspirations to attend college by 19%. Black students who have at least one Black teacher in elementary school are 13% more likely to enroll in college than those who don't.
Other studies point to the role of Black teachers' different attitudes towards Black students, including their belief that they will graduate from college. Researchers found a correlation between this more positive teacher’s attitude and better performance and higher self-esteem in the students.
Lastly, there is evidence that Black teachers' lower reliance on discipline and higher perseverance with Black students drive a positive impact in better attendance and engagement and higher test scores.
Becoming a Black educator is not easy, however.
College graduations among People of Color remain lower than among white people, although the numbers are steadily improving. This means that fewer Black people have the potential to become teachers. Fewer People of Color who are college graduates consider a teaching career mostly because the profession does not pay well and, on average, they graduate college with higher debts than their white counterparts.
If the prospect of a low-paying profession is not enough of a deterrent, the level of discrimination experienced by Black students in the classroom is dissuading many from wanting to become teachers.
Lastly, there is the burden put on many Black educators, what Sharif El Mekki, CEO and Founder of Center for Black Educator Development, calls the invisible tax: "This invisible tax takes form every time a Black teacher is asked to discipline a Black student. It happens every time a white educator expects a Black educator to do anti-racist work in the absence of real school or district-wide investment." The invisible tax negatively impacts prospective teachers as well as retention. A 2021 study by Eugenia Hopper (Coastal Carolina University), Derrick Robinson (University of Memphis), and Paul Fitchett (UNC Charlotte) used federal survey data to demonstrate that Black teachers were 10 percentage points more likely to leave the classroom within the first five years than the average teacher.
Apple's initiative in collaboration with Huston-Tillotson University might seem a small step when considering the numbers of teachers the program will bring into the education system. But let's not forgot the multiplier effect those teachers will have by touching the lives of so many students in what I genuinely hope will be a long and successful carrier in education.
This week Rhys Richard graduates from the Pre-Ed Scholars Program at Huston-Tillotson University. In his application for the program, Rhys wrote: "Every student should have the chance to be taught by someone who represents them…I want to be the teacher I never had, the teacher every student deserves. And it all begins here."