The Black Teacher vs. The Profession Debate

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I will tell you now, I stand divided on this issue. On one hand, I side with my heart, which supports getting more black teachers in the profession no matter what, but then I also side with protecting the profession and the need to improve education. I am torn on this debate. At the end of the piece I will chose a side, but in choosing a side, I will offer a solution.

I recently read a story about a black teacher in Baltimore, who may lose her job because she can't pass a certification test. This story broke my heart because I saw a black person in the classroom committed to improving the educational outcomes for her students. Hearing her story about substitute teaching and serving, as a paraprofessional for over a decade before enrolling in a program is inspiring. You will be hard pressed to find anyone else entering his or her second year with more experience or better qualified. Plus she is black, so I am in all support. 

The question now comes to defining qualifications. Some would define qualification in this situation as she is qualified according to her first teacher evaluation. Others would say she isn’t qualified until she passes all required exams for her teacher’s license. My heart goes to supporting the increase of teachers of color especially black teachers. Every chance I get to speak on this issue, I emphasize it. We need more black teachers. Too many black students are falling through the cracks and too many black students are not maximizing their education. The increase of black teachers can help solve both of these issues. My heart is on the side to support all black teachers no matter what.

The teaching profession takes its hits. We constantly hear about the American education system falling behind by the rest of the world. We have seen the statistics where America lags behinds on the world stage when it comes to math and reading. We read stories about so many failing schools around the country and so many schools losing students due to dropout. I understand those that say the only way we are going to improve the profession is to recruit the best and brightest. I agree with that wholeheartedly.

We have to make the profession attractive to our country's brightest high school and college students. Raising the GPA requirement and making the certification harder will increase the prestige. Think about it - teaching is a profession where you can work with an emergency license; this lowers the prestige.  Would you want a lawyer defending you who had an emergency law license?  Would you want a doctor operating on you who only had an emergency medical license?  In the teaching profession, you can get an emergency license and not even be in a transition to teaching program.

So, I have given you both sides. I explained to you why in my heart I sided with the need for black teachers in the profession. I have explained why I would agree with those that say we need to do more to improve the profession and recruit the best and brightest. Ultimately, I am going to always side with my heart. I have a deep passion in seeing more black teachers in the classroom. My own experience growing up drives that passion and also the early years of my own career as a teacher. Another reason lies in that fact that I am tired of seeing black students go through the education system and not have the opportunity to be taught by black teachers. It pains me to see predominately black schools not have a predominately black teaching staff.  

Although I have taken this side, I still want to protect the profession as well. Teaching is not medicine and it is not law. Teaching is different. There is a special skill set in teaching that is not required in law and medicine that no exam can measure. Teaching is a unique blend of an art and a science. Teaching has similarities to being a painter and a musician. I would like to see policies changed that only issue emergency licenses for individuals who are currently enrolled in a transition to teaching program. That will ensure they are actively working towards certification. I also would like to see the exam requirements revisited to look at racial bias.

The teacher in Baltimore is at risk of losing her job in Maryland because of the policy surrounding certification; however, she deserves to be in a classroom educating black students. If it is not in Maryland, I know of at least six schools in Indianapolis that would welcome her with open arms.



David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.