"Now more than ever our school children need role models and advocates in the school where they spend a large part of their daily lives. We must encourage more academically able Black students to consider teaching as a career...the loss of Black teachers is a threat to all children, white and black. Let us make sure our children see themselves in that world." (Elaine P. Witty, Retired Dean of the School of Education, Norfolk State University in Virginia, 2004)
Prior to the Brown decision, there was a sense of community in the Black segregated neighborhoods.The communities looked to their African American teachers to not only educate the African American students, but to also engage in social work, public health campaigns, racial uplift, and multicultural diplomacy.
Historically, educators were the largest group in the community to provide 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. Traditionally, African American teachers were expected to participate in the NAACP; these teachers were viewed as leaders.
Belief That Every Child Can Succeed
Historically, many African American teachers anticipated that every child would do well. The academic and professional success among African Americans despite poverty, racial discrimination, and the many social inequities facing African Americans was attributed to African American teachers and supporters who took an interest in them and provided them with sincere support. African American educators believed they were responsible for educating African American youth as a means of improving the quality of life for all Americans.
Community Centered Education
African American school communities were overwhelmingly reliant on community initiative and collective action. These segregated schools developed as community institutions where community members focused their collective energies toward a common goal; they could invest in each other and actively create sustainable resources to improve their lives. Since these school houses where community institutions in which everyone had vested interest, they reinforced the educational and communal values that facilitated their construction.
Identity, Culture, and Educational Achievement
Traditionally, African American schools were community-centered institutions that addressed the deeper psychological and sociological needs of African American people. Understanding the Black community involved understanding its basis for solidarity, its implied sense of power, its esteemed worth, and its collective aspirations for African American youth. Moreover, it involved understanding how institutional resources and other means were arranged to meet needs.
Teachers as Walking Texts of History, Perseverance, and Success
Much has been written about Black teachers, their experiences, their curriculum development, and their teaching in the public classroom. African American teachers possessed a desire to create a unique identity as educators while negotiating and renegotiating that identity to meet the necessary objectives, essential needs and community expectations of marginalized and oppressed students and families. Black teachers worked with the assumption that their job was to be certain that children learned material presented and could apply that learning to future success.
These teachers worked overtime to help their African American students learn; although these educators were teaching during segregation, they were also preparing their students for the possibilities of integration.Educators observed potential in their African American students, considered them intelligent, and were committed to their success.These professionals saw their jobs and responsibilities as extending far beyond the hallways of the schoolhouse or their classroom. They had a mission to teach African American student because they recognized the repercussions and consequences of not having and education. Undereducated and under-prepared students were vulnerable to destructive outcomes: (poverty, addiction, prison, and / or death).
African American educators were far more than physical role models; they brought diverse family histories, value orientations, and experiences to students in the classroom, not found in textbooks.Thus Black teachers were texts themselves, but these teachers’ text pages were immersed with life experiences and histories of racism, sexism, and oppression, along with those of strength, perseverance and victory. Consequently, the teachers’ life experiences were abundant and empowering; they had the potential to help students understand the world and to change it.
African American Teachers: World Views and Opportunities
African American teachers had a meaningful impact on African American students’ academic and social success because they often deeply understand Black student’ situations and circumstances. African American teachers had insight in helping African American students and other individuals understand important connections between social constructs and student behavior. In order for teachers to establish and maintain student motivation and engagement, they had to be aware of students’ feelings and their social requirements.Students’ feelings and emotions influenced their educational experiences. African American students often brought a set of situations that were grounded in racism, oppression, inequality and inequity. Racism, oppression, inequality and inequity emerged not only through their daily interactions but also through institutional and structural circumstance.
Allowing failure was understandable when considering the complex and challenging lives of African American students outside of the classroom.However, successful teachers of African American students maintained high expectations while empathizing so African American students had the best possible chance of mobilizing themselves and empowering their families and communities.Furthermore, teachers who were committed to improving the lives of their students did not accept mediocrity, they encouraged and insisted that student reach their full capacity, because African American teachers understood allowing students to coast would diminish any hopes of future success.
African American teachers refused to allow their students to fail. They developed appropriate, relevant, responsive, and meaningful learning opportunities for their students.Teachers had high expectations for students and pushed students to do their best work.Teachers often saw expertise, talents, and creativity in their students, and they insisted students reached their greatest potential to learn.
In school, African American teachers offered a counter-story or counter perspective on the situations that Black students encountered.Because of their deep cultural knowledge about Black students, these teachers often advocated for Black students in spaces where others misunderstood their life experiences, worldviews, and realities.
More than anything, because of the hard work and dedication of African American teachers, students did not want to disappoint. Students put forth effort and achieved academically and socially because teachers held extracurricular tutoring sessions, visited homes and churches in the community where they taught, even when they did not live in the community, and provided guidance about life’s responsibilities. These teachers made arrangements to meet with students before and after school and provided transportation when necessary to allow participation in extracurricular activities.In some instances, teachers purchased school supplies for their classroom, helped to supply clothing for students whose parents had fewer financial resources and provided scholarship money for those who planned to attend college.
School closures and the displacement of African American teachers and administrators due to integration destabilized community-schooling programs. In addition, this undermining impeded the ability for communities to work together in community-centered and community-controlled foundations created to motivate African American youth. These schools provided venues for resource development, community leadership, and extraordinary service. The loss of African American educators in the public school setting has had an ongoing, adverse effect on African American student and the communities they represent.