Many high school students in the School District of Philadelphia and around the country are coming to grips with a harsh reality: the lack of black teacher and the impact it has on students of color.
Not only can black educators serve as role models to at-risk minority students, they may also be better able to relate culturally to Generation Z, which in the long run can help students with their learning needs.
Statistics show that 7 percent of public school teachers in the United States are African American and only 2 percent are African American males, leaving many students of color without a firm hand to help guide them in a world fraught with distractions and pitfalls.
In 2015-2016, the Philadelphia School District reported, on average, 25 percent of teachers were African American, above the national average. However, that’s proportionally much smaller than the district’s student body, in which 50 percent are African American.
Racial diversity among educators, in a way, can be traced to the hiring of teachers.
“Hiring is never a perfect process; it depends on whoever is available during a given season,” said teacher Larissa Pahomov, who plays a role in the hiring process. “Last year was made even more difficult by the fact that for some positions we could only hire teachers who were currently employed by the School District of Philadelphia.”
Saamir Baker, a student at Science Leadership Academy, said he feels his education is impacted by the lack of teacher diversity. “I wish there were more black teachers that could relate to what I am personally going through on a racial scale,” said Baker.
Michael Nutter, former mayor of Philadelphia who now teaches at Columbia University, shed some light on this subject after addressing students in the Acel Moore High School Journalism Workshop in February.
“Teaching is a critically important profession that we don’t support anywhere near the levels that we should,” Nutter said. “The K-12 education system and colleges and universities have to put more effort into recruitment, incentives, and pay to really encourage people to come into teaching.”
Nutter said that because authoritative figures were missing in the classroom, he as a youngster had to turn to the news and politics for role models.
Nathaniel Morris, a 19-year-old African American student at the University of Pennsylvania, faced a dilemma when it was time to choose a college.
He knew of the advantages of attending a historically black college or university, yet he chose Penn.
Because he said he saw that this was a “school that would provide amazing resources. To be honest, you can’t get better than an Ivy.”
Black educators at Penn are hard to find, but Morris is determined to find the few who grace the Ivy League campus.
Morris said he understands that the teacher-student relationship is important in a college environment, and seeing a person of color in a position of power motivates him.