Town Hall Meeting: Shortage of Black Male Teachers Looms as Many Choose High-Paying Professions

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by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

BOWIE, Md. — In order to make a difference in the lives of students, teachers must bring a sense of dedication into the classroom and look beyond the desire for a hefty salary, proclaimed a highly acclaimed Maryland teacher Tuesday while urging college students at a town hall meeting to consider teaching as a profession.

“Let’s face it. No one goes into teaching (for money),” says 2009 Maryland Teacher of the Year Williams Thomas to applause on Tuesday as a panelist at the U.S. Department of Education’s TEACH campaign at Bowie State University.

Thomas said when he won the Maryland Teacher of the Year award, his students assumed he wanted to work at a better school and asked him where he was headed next.

“I said, ‘Here,’” answered Thomas, who teaches Advanced Placement government at Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School in Prince George’s County. “I said, ‘This is the best school.’”

Other award-winning teachers told similar stories of dedication during the town hall, part of TEACH’s campaign to get more college students, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, to join the ranks of America’s educators.

Special education teacher RaeShauna Mboma, PG County’s 2011 Teacher of the Year, spoke of a student who said she’d give her a hug the next day but died unexpectedly that night.

“From that point on, I knew that I had to take on every day as an educator as if it were my last day,” Mboma said.

In terms of inspiration, Tuesday’s event clearly had an impact.

Keshanda Golden, 26, a senior majoring in elementary education, said she was particularly moved by seeing African-American teachers from schools in the region who had been recognized for their work.

“It was very empowering,” said Golden, president of the Education Club at Bowie State and student state president of the Maryland State Education Association.

“It inspired me, just seeing the level of professionalism and their passion and dedication,” added Davesus Omosun, 29, a theater arts major at Bowie State who says he plans to get a master’s in teaching.

“It definitely helped me to affirm that this is the right decision that I’m making,” he said.

But while students were moved by the personal stories and accomplishments of the teachers who spoke at the event, it also gave them an opportunity to confront some of the troubling issues in education — such as low salaries and teacher layoffs — that make the profession unattractive to some.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan reassured students that even though the economy remains unsettled, hundred of thousands of teachers are expected to be hired in the coming years.

“These are very tough economic times,” Duncan said. “Unfortunately, a lot of things are being touched, including some teachers.

“But having said that, part of our job (within the federal government) is to look over the horizon. We know that even with tough economic times, we’re going to need teachers.”

Other speakers included Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., who said today’s teachers must take into account that the world has become more competitive.

Duncan noted, for instance, that African-American and Hispanic males comprise less than 4 percent of America’s teachers, while African-American and Hispanic students comprise a much larger portion of America’s students.

When Omosun asked during the Q&A why there are so few Black men in the teaching profession, answers didn’t exactly abound.

“That’s a very complicated problem,” said Thomas, who is Black.

He said some of the reasons stem from the history of socioeconomic circumstances of the community. He added that the conditions are such that “where you have a few who are excelling, they are easily consumed by other professions” because of demand in other professions and higher salaries.

But Thomas said aspiring teachers should not be overly concerned with a paycheck. “It goes beyond the money,” he said. “It goes to satisfaction. It goes to contributing. It can’t always be about ‘What am I getting?’. If you make the decision to become a teacher, you will be highly needed, highly appreciated and you will be able to contribute in ways that you never would have imagined.”

The lack of men within the teaching profession is a problem of which Dr. Traki Taylor-Webb, dean of the College of Education at Bowie State, is keenly aware. Within the College of Education, she said, more than 90 percent of the education majors are female.

“That’s not just Bowie State and HBCUs,” she said. “It’s like that everywhere. It’s the nature of the profession. Most teachers in the profession are women. That doesn’t mean men can’t teach. It means we need to find ways to encourage them to be in the profession.”

Taylor-Webb said, among other things, she is looking at reviving a program called Men Equipped to Nurture, or MEN, that was designed to attract more men into the teaching profession.

But she said the problem goes beyond recruiting African-American male students into the teaching profession. “It’s not enough to recruit,” Taylor-Webb said. “We need to retain.”

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