Relationships are vital and just getting to know people of color, increases a teachers' ability to work sensitively with children of color in the classroom. One of the most frequent complaints from students, especially African American students, is that some teachers, most noticeably White, do not relate very well to them. A positive relationship must exist between the student and teacher if significant academic achievement is to be gained.Students from diverse backgrounds and situations need to identify favorably with their teachers or they are less likely to perform well in school, which can have long-term implications. Low-achieving African American students benefit more from relationships with African American teachers than any other group of students.African American teachers also tend not to rationalize student failure by blaming family or society. Rather, African American teachers typically accept the student (even with their weaknesses) and do their best to help students achieve. Furthermore, when African American students attend schools with experienced, dedicated, concerned, and skilled African American educators, these students characteristically achieve better than students with limited access to African American educators.These teachers are more familiar with the cultural context of their students than their White counterparts.Having a greater understanding of the communities in which they teach, many African American educators develop meaningful relationships with their students and their students’ families outside of the school.
Questions of equity are forcing educators to re-evaluate an issue that has been present for decades: If we believe that everyone learns, then what accounts for the difficulties that many African American children have in school? Research in the areas of race and culture is broadening the understanding of the impact of teachers on academic success.Attitudes and expectations influence the climate of the classrooms, shape what is taught and thus has an influence on the achievement of African American students.
Whether African American students attend public or private schools, whether they attend co-ed or same-sex institutions, literature and current information supports the notion that their teachers positively influence learning outcomes. The foundation of the educational process is the interaction between teacher and student.Basically, students live up to what teachers expect.
Research and recent data repeatedly confirm, expectation of students is instrumental to their performance. A further examination asserts, one of the most important factors in student performance is not poverty, not the home environment, not the per-pupil spending; one of the most important factors is teacher/parent expectation. When teachers expect African American students to fail regardless of academic potential, students adjust their behavior in ways that help realize these expectations. Educators have the power to guide students towards academic excellence or steer them to mediocrity and failure. Therefore, teachers must educate, encourage, empower and promote excellence among all children especially those from diverse backgrounds and situations.
Teachers symbolize leadership in education and are also culture carriers. However, teachers bring their own culture and values with them into the classroom. Consequently, when faced with a conflict in cultural values, teachers often react by rigidly adhering to their own belief systems and diminishing the values of their students. Previously held prejudices and stereotypes lead to assumptions that influence actions and interfere with teaching effectively.
A major factor at work in racial interactions between teachers and students is attitude of the educator. Teachers' support of black-white rapport sets the tone for the classrooms; students follow their teachers' lead in endorsing positive race relations. Teachers' bias about minority children, however, contributes to lower expectations for academic achievement, which results in re-segregation: minority children are placed in remedial classes due to teacher biases and low expectations. Furthermore, when student placement is based on teacher recommendation, schools are frequently faced with White teachers who do not understand and embrace African American children, culture or learning differences, which leads to fewer students directed toward advance placement classes and more placed in special education programs. Negative teacher attitudes lead to discriminatory educational practices.
Cultural conflict was not a major concern prior to integration because African American teachers typically taught African American students. In 1954, there were 82,000 black teachers in American public schools. In the decade following the Brown v. Board of Education decision, nearly 40,000 black teachers and principals lost their jobs because all-black schools shut down and white institutions did not hire African American educators.
The presence of African American teachers in the classroom makes an even more positive difference to students of the same culture. Students and teachers who share cognitive commonalities tend to perceive each other more favorably than those who are divergent. African American students benefit from the pedagogical and philosophical practices of African American teachers. Black teachers communicate the message that education is for black students, not just Whites. They provide a connection for those students who may feel alienated from the school environment. They represent surrogate parent figures and function as significant role models. A diverse teaching force allows all students to understand people who come from diverse backgrounds and situations. Therefore, every effort should be made to create a learning environment that represents the population of students being served because African American students compare themselves to other African American individuals, not to Whites.
Additionally, African American rely on familial relations that include blood relatives and close friends. Uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents and friends all share in a collective responsibility for caring for the children and teaching skills and values. Identifying with larger familial groups produces positive benefits for African American students. This collective, kinship support system allows African American students to gather strength from the cultural group so they are better able to maintain their self-esteem and a healthy self-image in the face of a racially oppressive society.
African American parents prepare their children to navigate white spaces without becoming White by learning about significant African American individuals and interpreting events in light of the African American experience. This preparation provides strict guidelines for behavior and establishes high expectations to do well and be a credit to the family and / or community and in the process; it creates independent and self-sufficient children. However, navigating these spaces unsuccessfully can generate negative attitudes on the part of the White teacher and results in inappropriate placement and impact student academic achievement.Therefore, educators and parents must form partnerships between the African American culture and the school culture, to find a common ground in their expectations of students and to reinforce the cultural heritage and ethnic identity of African American youth.