The Memphis-Shelby County Schools recently earned a Level 5 distinction from the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System. “We are proud of this honor because it affirms that our strategies and teachers are helping students make academic gains,” MSCS Deputy Superintendent Dr. Angela Whitelaw, a proud educator, stated.
One of the strategies that are working in Memphis is the initiative of the local nonprofit Man Up Teacher Fellowship. For the last five years, the Man Up Fellowship has created a pipeline for men of color interested in becoming educators. These men will be placed in high-poverty schools, giving students who have probably never had a Black male teacher a new experience. Teachers who complete the program are eligible to earn a free master’s degree. And that’s not all, the Man Up Teacher Fellowship has partnered with Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University for Man Up Aspiring Principals to prepare Black men to step into educational leadership at the administrative level.
The U.S. Department of Education said that less than two percent of teachers are Black men, making it unlikely for students to ever sit in a classroom instructed by a Black teacher. Relatability is at stake for children who may spend their entire educational career taught by women who are usually young and white. Many families have challenges in these situations where lack of communication, empathy and cultural humility are missing from the classroom. “When Black students have at least one Black teacher by 3rd grade, they’re 13 percent more likely to enroll in college. With two Black teachers, they are 32 percent more likely to go to college. For low-income Black boys, their on-time high school graduation rate climbs by nearly 40 percent,” according to the Johns Hopkins Magazine.
These stats are staggering and suggest that there are workable solutions to diversify the national teaching pool and make Black children feel seen and understood by teachers who look like them, and who may have come from similar socio-economic environments. Not being intimidated or having to explain a family dynamic endemic to the Black community means learning can start sooner and be sustained throughout the school year.
One would think that a program like Man Up Fellowship would come out of major cities like Los Angeles or New York or Atlanta. These cities have more resources and a larger pool of teachers. Unfortunately, segregation remains high with 90% of Black children receiving a public school education. Latino children have also swelled the ranks of public school attendees, making segregation in Memphis worse than it was 50 years ago. These factors make Memphis fertile ground for teacher initiatives that seek to add Black men as educators and improve the quality of education for children of color.