Introduction: The Issue
According to Santrock (2001) American schools of the twentieth century have prominent roles in the lives of students. Santrock suggests the basis of school serves the function of training the intellectual skills of students. Yet, Black America has been deemed insufficient in the area of education. The lack of black teachers in the classroom may be a detrimental determinant of that fact (“What’s Behind,” 2001). Sianjina, Cage, and Allen (1996) state the lacking presence of African-American educators poses a serious problem to the educational profession and the African-American community as a whole. As many as two million new teachers will be needed with the next decade; over 700,000 of those will be needed in poverty-stricken urban and rural districts (“What’s Behind,” 2001). Sianjina et. al (1996) state there exists an unquestionable relationship associated with African-American teachers and the status of African-American students’ academic achievements.
According to Barnes (2000) gravely important to culturally diverse education is the development of leaders of color in this ever-growing diverse population. However, efforts made to recruit African-American teachers are met with opposition. Many African-Americans feel there is no social, psychological, or economic benefit in teaching (Scherer, 1996). Scherer states positions in need of African-American teacher influences are often filled with young, Caucasian teachers. Even schools in the South once populated by black teachers fall below a 5% African-American teacher population (Scherer, 1996).
Several decades ago, the field of education experienced a high turn of blacks entering teacher programs. Then, it seemed teachers were respected, and education was one of the fields blacks could enter without facing mass onslaughts of discrimination. Today, blacks are entering other fields possessing equal opportunity possibilities for them (“What’s Behind,” 2001). Again, Scherer (1996) argues that with the lack of African-Americans enrolling in teacher education programs, children must be exposed to other modes of diverse, cultural experiences. However, strength prevails in diversity, and schools must find ways to provide integrated teaching and learning experiences for our nation’s youth.
Having qualified educators form these experiences for our youth is important. One writer poses the following scenario: If a shortage of airplane pilots presents itself, flight attendants would not be used to accommodate the open positions. The same scrutiny should be present when filling the open positions in classrooms (“What’s Behind,” 2001).
Campbell-Whatley and Comer (2000) suggest blatant and hidden negative responses to students (based upon gender and race) can limit student competence. Historically, many African-American students’ concepts have been weakened in the school setting.
Discussion: Research and Related Issues
Most of a school-aged child’s day is spent in the school setting. School has a detrimental opportunity to influence students’ image, esteem and success (Campbell-Whatley & Comer, 2000). According to Santrock (2001) school life involves thousands of interactions among teachers, peers, and parents. Many African-American students are limited in their interactions in their respective academic settings (Campbell-Whatley & Comer, 2000). According to Sianjina, Cage, and Allen (1996) every student should receive appropriate educational exposure equipped with teachers of color; however, the limited existence of African-American teachers are reflective of the onslaught of issues facing the education profession in general.
Many educational practices lack the ability to tap into the full potential of African-Americans; thus, these students are often misplaced and filtered through lower academic tasks and programs. Reglin (1995) states:
Schools are not succeeding with our current generation of African-American students. In
far too many minority communities, schools
simply fail to provide the quality of education needed to sustain the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of young African-Americans. The data- dropout rates, marginal achievement test scores, disruptive school behavior, low student self-esteem, and poor college attendance- all indicate that a vast segment of these students are being underserved by their schools.(xiii)
The school setting can (and should) serve as an experience that prepares the student for success in the mainstream. School is a direct product of mainstream society (Campbell-Whatley & Comer, 2000). Educational institutions have a moral obligation to enhance minority involvement in the economic and social mainstream of this nation (Barnes, 2000).
African-American students confront issues and form attitudes based upon their continuous, and often negative, racial experiences (Campbell-Whatley & Comers, 2000), illustrating a persistent societal problem- inequitable quality education (Roach, 2001). Surprisingly, all African-American students are at risk; this situation does not isolate only those from adversely impoverished backgrounds. Yet, many of the lowered expectations of African-Americans held by mainstream society are often committed unconsciously (Campbell-Whatley & Comer, 2000).
Ford (1995) introduces a study conducted with 152 middle and high school African-American students spanning five mid-Atlantic school districts. This study was designed to present the perceptions these academically diverse students held regarding the positive and negative aspects of their education. Ford reports that in every district participating in this study, African-American students were under-represented in gifted education programs and 42% of the sample of African-American students was classified as underachievers. However, Ford concludes test scores and teacher observations alone fail to provide an accurate picture of minority students. Multiple instruments and procedures should be employed as well as a focus on talent development and the nurturance of ability.
Teacher-student interactions affect and influence student behavior. Teacher adaptability, warmth and awareness of individual differences improve the occurrence of student growth. These teachers are trusted, respected, recognized for their uncanny ability to create settings in which students feel comfortable and excel (Santrock, 2001). Reglin (1995) suggests techniques for fostering more positive interactions with African-American students. He suggests:
Plan lessons including African-American culture
Plan lessons capturing African-American student interests
Encourage cooperative learning
Promote social skills
Assess school and class climate regularly
Resolve conflicts concerning ethnic differences
Model appropriate attitudes and behaviors
Through consistent efforts and practice, teachers can provide positive and nurturing classroom climates (Reglin, 1995).
The increasing numbers of African-Americans and students of color populating school systems increases the urgency for staffing teachers of colors in institutions nationwide (Sianjina, Cage, & Allen, 1996). Educators must take interest in students’ culture, values, and family lifestyles to increase their understanding of and sensitivity to student diversity (Campbell-Whatley & Comer, 2000).
Methods for encouraging minority teacher pursuance should be employed. Financial incentives, loan forgiveness, and scholarships should be presented to potential African-American educators (Sianjina, Cage, & Allen, 1996). Sianjina, Cage, and Allen propose the following:
We must develop quality programs to help
African-Americans and other students of color graduate from high school and receive the emotional, academic, and financial support necessary to have a successful college experience; recruit those individuals to the teaching profession; and offer appropriate incentives to keep them in the teaching career. (32)
Low teacher expectations of students, lead students to lower expectations of themselves. This denies African-American students the high levels of support and challenge they need to excel (Campbell-Whatley & Comer, 2000). According to Campbell-Whatley and Comer (2000) colorblind instruction is necessary for the academic success of all students. Roach (2001) suggests opportunities for improvement results from equal, expanded access to rigorous, challenging coursework for all students. Strategies such as peer tutoring, cooperative learning, mastery practice, problem-based learning, and error analysis utilized on a regular basis with all students, may lead to better school climate, enhanced student outcomes, and positively challenging academic experiences. Ultimately, these practices reduce the attitudes that impede the development of African-American learners (Campbell-Whatley & Comer, 2000).
The exact relationship between ethnic identity and social development has yet to be clearly articulated or established (Branch, 1994). Continuous research on effective practice and educational inputs for achievement are warranted to provide curriculum essential for success (“Small Classes,” 2001). Scherer (1996) states no curriculum is ever best, and should continually evolve. Systems must function from the attitude and belief that collaboration is essential for making the educational decisions affecting students. But, troublesome attitudes and beliefs prove harmful to African-American students. By engaging in less constructive practices concerning African-American students, systems become locked into cheating these individuals from the better educational experiences in which they are entitled (Campbell-Whatley & Comer, 2000). According to Ford (1995) multicultural curriculum engages and motivates African-American students, therefore promoting self-understanding and appreciation. Thus, an effort to recruit and retain minority teachers to mentor, support, and advocate for this development in African-American students, established a critical challenge for educational systems. Gordon, Rogers, Comfort, Gavula, and McGee (2001) speculate only excitement can be rendered from educational programming that promotes successful outcomes for these students. Reglin (1995) states:
African-American youth must be encouraged-
not discouraged. Negative expectations, low
standards, competition, and double standards all promote discouragement and are often alienating to underachieving African-American youth. Most African-American students have not learned very
much because teachers have not pushed them hard enough. Teachers must maintain high standards, be creative, and challenge students at every opportunity.(114)
Black educators are needed to present these challenges to our black students. Black educators are committed educators. According to Branch (1994) there has been a shift in African-American culture from Eurocentric ideologies to Afrocentric practices. Therefore, attacking the shortage requires black teachers to buy into tradition. Blacks must recall the strength of dedicated black educators of the past, and remember the power and determination of these individuals shaped many of the attitudes and beliefs of those who are educators today. Society’s youth are worth the effort (“What’s Behind, 2001).
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