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Black Teachers Wanted


America is becoming more and more diverse every year and that means our schools are also also seeing increasing numbers of students of color but the trend isn't necessarily reflected in teachers across the country. Black students and other students of color rarely see the teachers who look like them and that can have serious consequences for their education and their future for the beginning of black history month. We wanted to play you. An episode from our archives that goes into the history of black teachers in America why gaps and representation among teachers persist to this day and what we can do to address this issue. Hi I'm Lizzie. Does he get era and misses the scholars strategy networks. No jargon each week we discussed an American policy problem with one of the nation's top researchers without jargon and and in this episode I spoke to Dr Michelle Foster. She's a professor. And the Henri Hauser Endowed Chair in urban partnerships at the University of Louisville and a former teacher in the Boston public school system. Here's our conversation Dr Foster thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for asking asking me. So you've conducted a lot of research on teaching but before that you were in the classroom yourself. Where did you start teaching? Well I started teaching in and the Boston public schools before desegregation which was in one thousand nine hundred ninety four and so the first year. I was a system wide substitute teacher which meant I taught in almost all of the schools. That would be in Boston. That would have you. That would have me and sometimes the schools that where I could manage. oftentimes the principal would come at recess. And if I was still there he said can you come. I'm back tomorrow because as you know. Substitutes often have difficulty with some classrooms and urban schools and then the second year I was a teacher at the William Monroe Charter school which was one of the first magnet schools in Boston. And can you tell US quickly. What a what is a magnet school? A magnet schools were schools that usually had themes And they were designed to help ease desegregation to have programs that might be a program in music. What theater with the idea that you would attract voluntarily Ellen Terry Lee attract white students to attend thereby making it easier to desegregate and Boston had magnet schools before actually the court order in nineteen seventy four? Lots of Cities Louisville has a magnet program. So I had a three four five combination at the charter school. which is we're not too far from where I lived? And then the next year I had a job. As a fifth grade teacher at the champlain. School which was in Dorchester. And tell me more about those experiences. What was that like working in the Boston? Public school system during that time. Well that was a time. When Boston didn't necessarily hire hire black or African American teachers black teachers tended to be segregated in predominantly African American or black schools? Boston would often have overcrowded. African American school bus them passed a under cry and under crowded white school to another overcrowded. Black school the charter school was of a magnet school. So it was is racially mixed but the champlain. School was probably predominantly baby. Ninety nine percent African American there was a school across way which was the John Marshall School and the schools were segregate they were in a cluster of schools. But the John Marshall's which was across Washington street at the time was predominantly white and my school was predominantly African American. We it was like today day. We have very few supplies not many many books. Hence Loretta Premium No Playground equipment was a place. Where if you want to be a successful teacher you had to be creative? And it's one of the places I learned. I think to be a good teacher. you know. If you don't have textbooks textbooks are good but you can do a lots of things if you don't have them so one of the things I used to do is take the textbook and cut up the story the reading story and put on cards and hand them out to the kids and then I read the first paragraph and I say who is that the next one and that solve off two problems one. If you've ever taught you realize kids don't follow along so they never really know what page you're on that solve. That problem and I realized later on that I was teaching sequencing using because in order to know what comes next. You have to listen so it is possible with not a lot of equipment or supplies to be creative in your teaching but but of course you have to WanNa be wanna be creative and I had not been prepared as a teacher you know. I didn't study teaching so I was left to my own devices. But what I thought would make sense for kids and part of my principal was to have them excited. I felt like if you came to school every day. It was like Christmas. was you'd WanNa come so of course. I was probably not your typical teacher and and I think that my kids probably made too much noise. The principal would always be knocking on my door as they were noisy. Because in those days I suppose even today silence and comportment comportment looking like your on task. Whatever that means? You'll you'll pay attention is kind of rules the day. But I wasn't that kind of a teacher. I would run and have racist with the kids. I would play kickball where I would throw the ball. And then the kids would have to give a multiplication table and they'd have to answer it and then kick so I tried to combine the physical Cole with intellectual. I had all kinds of little tricks that I did. I suppose even as a college teacher later on I have some of those. And how did those early experiences in the classroom GonNa Affect your later research. The research questions you wanted to explore. I don't think I thought too much about that. Initially it wasn't until I laid Iran. Iran started my academic and my first job was at University of Pennsylvania. And I would ask you to summer school courses and I decided to teach teachers perspectives on teaching. You know I just. I just thought it was a two week course. I went decide. I would use autobiographies or biographies of teachers on their own practice. And when I looked into the literature I found very few Accounts of black teachers about their own practice and so. I thought this is unusual because I knew enough to know that for most of history black students have been taught by black teachers right. I knew that so I was shot that there were no. They were not more accounts of their practice. Because I found a few and it on the basis of that. I decided that I would do a study that looked at life histories of black African American teachers. And that's how I got into that area I was led into it just circumstantially. It was not something I had planned to look at. And so tell us about what you found then. Well one of the things I was interested in was what were the experiences of black teachers and I was particularly looking at teachers who were who started. Arctic teaching before desegregation I knew the desegregation was a pivotal moment in the education of African American students. I didn't know what I find and so the earliest teacher who was the oldest oldest was born in one thousand nine five. She taught in polly's island South Carolina. And then I found teachers to a process I called community nomination which was to ask S. communities I made up that term made it up to nominate teachers who they thought were particularly successful and so I went around the country Texas I went to Missouri. Glory and these teachers and then for many many years I wrote academic articles about them. You know just what the teachers had to say was kind of used in the service service of making better big points in a lot of points and then at some point someone. The new press actually asked me if I would write a book and I wrote a book called Black Teachers on teaching and that was like I was ninety. Seven with a twenty interviews are actually you know not condemn not cut up their whole interviews and many of these teachers would teach who started in in segregated schools in Texas and then made the transition to working in the newly integrated desegregated schools in the south. So that's story that I I was pleased because later on many young African American teachers who came of age nineties and two thousands read that book and many of them have commented that the situation that I just got different than what they are today. So you have worked as a teacher both before and after desegregation you have studied sort of that transition and what. It's looked like for other teachers across the country. Let's talk about the situation right now. Do you know enough about the typical sort of American teacher. Fair to say what that person kind of looks like on average today. You know we do know that there are more male teachers at high school than Elementary School. Most of the teachers at elementary the are women and as it turns out. They are white women from suburban and rural communities who teach the population of teach of African American teachers. It has not changed that much over time. In fact I was at a conference not too long ago and although the numbers are increasing in other words number of people afterward teachers will be coming candidates and going into teaching positions. They have the highest attrition rate. They ended up leaving in greater numbers numbers than other teachers. And I think there are some reasons for that. Of course you know one of the reasons is that they often get assigned to the most difficult teaching conditions. I mean let's the honest people want African American teachers because I think that they will be good for African American children. And there's no doubt that that's probably the case but you know if they end up in a school whether or no supplies wear. There are a lot of difficulties and they're not going to likely to stay especially if they don't have support to make it so although we know that the number of African American churches increasing we also know that the number of relieving actually not even lasting three years is also increasing. So it's been a zero sum game. The numbers have not increased appreciably that much because of that and then let's talk about the benefits to students. What are the good things that having a teacher who may be looks like you and your community can afford to students? Well for a long time. People had this idea that was just the role model argument. The reason that African American children in a benefit of having african-american role model then in two thousand three. I think it was a man. Whose name is Thomas? D actually wrote a wrote an article. What he had done he looked at some old studies? Are these that had randomly assigned students and teachers which is very rare in education research. Because you can't resign randomly assigned teachers and students but there was one study and he realized it one of the things he found. Is that where you had a teacher match. When you had a black students who had black teachers have teachers? They actually improved in their standardized test scores scores and of course he had a hard time publishing it. Partly because you know sometimes things that can be positive and also have negative kickback. People thought what would happen if if if we could say that matching teacher and student on race was a good thing. I mean you could use that negatively as well so he was the first person to write that article and then recently there have been more articles that have come out that have shown that African American students who have African American teachers are more likely to graduate graduate. They're less likely to be suspended or punished. punitively they're more likely to be assigned to gifted and talented less likely to go to special the lead and a host of other

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