“Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better.” Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro
Effective educators are most successful when they understand the specific needs of the children they serve. There is a compelling need to know more about what African American students need in contemporary classrooms. Furthermore, research indicates the most prominent factor in improving the life and circumstances of African Americans and promoting social change is education. African American teachers are the agents of change. African American Teachers see themselves as being responsible for educating African American youth and subsequently improving the quality of life in Black communities.
Historically, educators were the largest group in the African American community providing leadership. Throughout the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century African American educators held themselves responsible and accountable for the education achievement of children and adults attending their schools and living in their communities.
Traditionally, many African American teachers expected every child to succeed African American teachers saw potential in their Black students, considered them to be intelligent, and were committed to their success. Researchers attribute the academic and professional success among African Americans despite poverty, racial discrimination, and the many social inequities facing African Americans to those African American teachers and supporters who took an interest in them and provided them with moral and political support.
What if educators truly loved Black children and promoted a teaching philosophy that challenged the social justification of poverty, sexism, classism, exploitation, and racism. An African American teaching perspective is needed to combat these ills while producing an education that contributes to achieving pride, equity, power, wealth, and cultural continuity as well as advancing character development within the context of African American community and culture. Schoolhouses must serve as community institutions in which everyone has vested interest; they reinforce the educational and communal values that facilitate their construction.
African American teachers’ life experiences, attitudes, and desire to serve contribute to their development of their pedagogical practices. African American teachers to do not rationalize student failure by blaming societal challenges these individuals advocated for change and imbed this idea in their students. Historically, African American teachers acted as agents for social change and created of new, optimistic expectations and realities for the African American community. Black schools were community-centered institutions that addressed the deeper psychological and sociological needs of their clients. In order for teachers to establish and maintain student motivation and engagement, they had to be aware of students’ feelings and their social needs. Students’ feelings and emotions mattered in how they experienced education; Black students brought a set of situations that were grounded in racism, inequity, and oppression and Black teachers had to address these circumstances. Traditionally, schools provided venues for resource development, community leadership, and extraordinary service.
The Surrogate Parent
While addressing social concerns was vital, students also performed better when there were components of their culture intertwined within the classroom and / or school setting. Candid classroom discussions about community devastation, use of relevant musical genres to facilitate learning, open dialogue about the Black church experience and use of African American colloquialisms helped cultivate students’ sense of self, culture, history and belonging.
Other components of teacher styles included open affection to students and the collective encouragement and praise and the fostering of the themes of social and personal responsibility all in attempt to create a classroom environment that represent the extended family. These teachers viewed themselves as matriarchal / patriarchal figures and the Black children in their schools and in their community as part of their own families.
The Role Model
Customarily, African American teachers were of critical importance because children needed to see that Black teacher existed and that Black people held professional positions. Running a school system without teachers and administrators that represents the students being served is like teaching supremacy without saying a word. Additionally positive, relevant role models were critical for ensuring commitment of African American youth to education. Furthermore, without adequate exposure to African American teachers all students normalize education and all aspects of academia as being better suited for Whites. Without the presence of African American teachers, the value of education for African American students fell.
Diversity in school personnel also allows different views to be heard and perspectives to be observed. Schools were originally designed to help children develop their fullest potential, including the capacity to relate to others in a liberated yet productive manner.
Entrenched in the need for representative role models was a perspective, which called for equity and equality; a national teaching force composed of teachers of color in proportion to the representation of students of color. However, the current teaching model reveals that the above idea has not transpired.
Customarily, African American teachers had to discipline their students. The teacher’s ability to achieve this task was possible because students and parents had culturally congruent backgrounds with the teachers. This cultural congruence helped the stakeholders better relate to one another and create agreed upon expectations. Finding common strands between student / parent and teachers helped bridge the necessary gaps which fostered open communication and student compliance. Parents were more willing to accept corrective language and consequences when there were commonalties between the participants.
Conversely, when a non African American teacher was faced with the daunting task of disciplining an African American student, there was an array of underlying factors: lack of trust and disenfranchisement were two key factors. African American parents viewed non African American teachers as they viewed the society as a whole, the problem with educating Black children in America was precisely that “a problem.” That being said schools systems were a snapshot of the larger society. Moreover, problems with behavior and discipline contributed to African American students being tracked into less rigorous academic programs. These feeling of oppression were set aside when African American parents worked with African American teachers.
Summary of Significant Roles
The limited presence of African Americans in the teaching profession has been and continued to be a serious problem confronting the education profession and African American communities in the United States. African American educators understand the necessity to serve as teachers, counselors, advocates, disciplinarians, surrogate parents and role models for the African American student population
The current instructional landscape is overdue for and educational renaissance. The public school systems must to place more African American teachers with African American students to benefit the entire school community. This call to action is based on the roles of successful African American teachers prior to the Brown versus Education decision and is necessary for true equity and equality in education and life.
“Either America will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States.” W.E.B. Du Bois