Academic journal article Educational Foundations

The Promise of Black Teachers' Success with Black Students

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

The Promise of Black Teachers' Success with Black Students

Article excerpt

In this article, I discuss African American (1) researchers' perspectives on the experiences, impact and success of Black teachers with Black students in public schools. This study builds on an earlier study that focused specifically on these researchers' insights about the impact of the Brown versus the Topeka Board of Education decision on Black teachers, Black students, and Black communities (see Milner & Howard, 2004). In that work, the interviewed researchers focused on the experiences and impact of Black teachers in improving the learning opportunities of Black students, both past and present. In short, based on that study with a focus on Brown, the researchers who participated in the study pointed to a need for the recruitment and retention of Black teachers in public schools to improve the academic, cultural, and social experiences of all students but particularly African American students. In this study, I attempt to focus on what we know about successful Black teachers of Black students to (a) contribute to the ever growing literature about successful teachers of Black students for the benefit of teachers from various ethnic backgrounds; and (b) outline several salient suppositions that may help us in advancing the research and theory about successful teachers of Black students. Clearly, outlining some of the practices of Black teachers and their success with Black students can be insightful for all teachers interested in teaching Black students.

For the purposes of this study, I focus specifically on the following questions:

*From what features of successful Black teachers and their teaching might others learn and benefit? and

*What types of questions should we investigate and address in order to improve the learning opportunities for Black students?

It is critical to note that it is not my intent to engage in a form of what Gay (2000) called "professional racism"--

   by underscoring the need for more teachers of color. The need for
   more Latino, Asian, Native, and African American teachers in U.S.
   schools is unquestionable. But to make improving the achievement of
   students of color contingent upon fulfilling this need is based on
   a very fallacious and dangerous assumption. It presumes that
   membership in an ethnic group is necessary or sufficient to enable
   teachers to do culturally competent pedagogy. This is as ludicrous
   as assuming that one automatically knows how to teach English to
   others simply because one is a native speaker ... (p. 205)

Engaging in this professional racism is not my goal or mission in this article. I agree with Gay and believe her perspectives here around the danger in assuming that Black teachers, for instance, carry all the knowledge, skills, and commitments necessary to successfully teach African American students. To the contrary, there is a huge range of diversity even within groups, and we cannot oversimplify the characteristics of any group of teachers. I have observed some less than successful and knowledgeable teachers from various ethnic backgrounds, including Black teachers. Moreover, as Gay explained,

   ... knowledge and use of the cultural heritages, experiences, and
   perspectives of ethnic groups [of students] in teaching are far
   more important to improving student achievement than shared group
   membership. Similar ethnicity between students and teachers may be
   potentially beneficial, but it is not a guarantee of pedagogical
   effectiveness. (p. 205)

Still, based on the findings of my study, I want to focus on Black teachers' experiences and success both pre and post desegregation for insights about how all teachers can deepen and broaden their knowledge and understanding to better meet the needs and situations of students at present, particularly among Black students. In addition, I hope to encourage and inspire other researchers to continue investigating what we know about successful teachers of Black students. …

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