The first time I stepped into the classroom as a teacher, I fell in love with teaching. I remember when I was excited about my opportunity to step outside the classroom and step into administration. My first leadership position outside the classroom was as a dean of students. I was a middle school dean. I was excited because I had just finished my program and had received my administrator’s license. At the time, I was excited about the opportunity. I was an English major in college and had taught high school English. I did not realize I had contributed to a trend that many Black men before me and even some now face regularly. The first position outside the classroom is the dean role.
I shined the year before. I could engage my students in the content, I had formed great relationships with them, and I rarely, if ever, had any discipline issues. What my school saw was the fact that I was able to form those relationships with students while many others struggled. I believed they saw my ability to connect with students, but I also believe it was the fact I was a Black male in a school that was predominately Black, and the students in the building who struggled the most happened to be Black. I was viewed as a de facto disciplinarian.
My story is not unique. It is the story of many Black men in education. They do not see us as instructional leaders; but instead, they box us into the role of disciplinarian or other roles not related to instruction.
A 2019 report co-authored by The Education Trust and Teach Plus titled “If You Listen, We Will Stay” included the perspective of Black educators. Teacher in the report shared their school expected them to take on roles because they shared their students’ demographic background. Those roles reported by Black males were ones such as disciplinarian, surrogate fathers, or athletic coaches. I have spoken to Black male teachers who weren’t not interviewed for the report who share similar stories of their pathways in the profession. They share it feels as though they have been boxed into specific roles by their colleagues, administrators, and parents. Some have even expressed how being boxed in has hurt their opportunities to advance in their careers.
I, along with others, was able to leverage the role of the team to move into the principalship, but I believe many schools, when they see a Black male, do not see an instructional leader or one that leads the academics. These roles are important in schools, but I wonder why these roles are assigned mainly to Black males. If we want Black students to improve their academics, we should use Black teachers as models of academic excellence and put them in instructional leadership roles.
I wonder how many Black males in senior leadership roles had a career path that did not have a pit stop with a role involved in discipline. I wonder how many had roles on their journey that were all in academics. The pathways to leadership seem vastly different for Black men. We begin as teachers, dean of students, assistant principal (sometimes over student services or operations), and then principal. The white teacher has a different pathway. They begin by teaching, move to an instructional coach role, assistant principal (usually over academics or instruction), and then principal. How often do you hear schools say, wow, that white teacher has great classroom management and forms great relationships? Let’s make her a dean over discipline?
The ability to connect with students seems to be used against us in some schools. Some schools see the ability to relate to Black students and get the most out of them, and that is where we begin to get boxed in. They put us in the box of only teaching only black students. We get called upon when issues with a group of Black students arises. When a Black student struggles in the class down the hall, they are sent or moved to our classroom. It is exhausting, frustrating, and it is draining!
A black male teacher is a rare sighting in classrooms in our country. It is easy to say there is a need for Black males, but what about the Black males we have currently? What I am asking is that when schools see Black men, instead of putting them in a box, they see us not as disciplinarians but for our pedagogy and content expertise.
Black men, even though these schools may try to box us into these roles, we do not have to go along with being boxed in. Do not allow yourself to get stuck in a box. Schools may have preconceived notions but remember your actual value to the school. It may not seem like you do not have much choice but remember your worth.