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Black Teachers Matter

January 23, 2018

 

In the late 1800s, children from Indian tribes were put on trains and sent to boarding schools sometimes hundreds of miles from their homes. Once they arrived, they were explicitly and implicitly taught that their culture and their people were backwards vestiges of the past. School taught them that Indians were powerless in the face of progress and their improvement and development depended on emulating the behaviors of the adults in charge.

 

As a country we still wrestle with questions of success and assimilation. In modern educational policy, outsiders look at communities of color where the legacy of segregation and mass incarceration have left a major mark, and sometimes come to a similar conclusion as the educational missionaries of the last century. To education reformers of the first decade of our century, urban schools should be made anew into places where “professionalism” and “high expectations” reign. At my Teach For America Institute more than a decade ago, a white pre-service teacher tearfully and emotionally explained that she entered this work because she wanted her students to have a good life. She meant that she wanted them to be able to get out of the hood. She felt comfortable, and maybe even righteous when she said this because among new teachers the missionary zeal was alive and well in 2006. This enthusiasm was reflected in policymakers who applauded teachers from prestigious colleges coming into low-income communities to teach. They were not applauding the black teachers who came through Baltimore City Public Schools and graduated from Coppin State. The newcomers and policymakers spent little time in 2006 thinking about the effects of supplanting a largely black teaching force with one that was increasingly white and not from Baltimore.

 

Ten years later, a teaching force that was at one point more than 60% black at on