I founded the Black Teacher Project in 2015 to address a lifelong passion and pursuit of mine: to support Black people in the United States in becoming and remaining the best teachers we can be.
I moved to the Bay Area to teach high school over 20 years ago and left the classroom after just a few years. I always pictured myself as the kind of teacher that would be in the classroom long enough to teach my students kids’ and be a strong presence in my community. I knew my departure was a mix of systemic, political and professional factors that were connected to my Blackness. I wanted to learn more and support more Black people to become teachers and stay in the classroom, consistently gaining mastery of teaching while remaining healthy whole human beings. That led me to earn my Ph.D. in Education at U.C. Berkeley and write my dissertation on the roles and experiences of Black teachers in multi-racial settings. I then worked with BayCES (now National Equity Project) to support the creation of small schools in Oakland.
I went on to work with organizations like the Posse Foundation and the Urban Teaching Corps that helped me gain a national perspective of what it takes for Black people to become and remain teachers in this country. Since returning to the Bay to support teachers locally, I have been able to work with a former Black student of mine who has become a teacher. Working with her inspired me to develop this project. You can read more about that story in The Black Teacher Project’s collection of #MyBlackTeacher stories.
Black people comprise approximately 12 percent of the population of the United States. Black teachers comprise 7 percent of teachers in this country, with many teaching mostly Black and Latino students. In Oakland, Black students make up about a quarter of our public school population, and Black teachers make up about a fifth of Oakland teachers.
Our vision is that all children will have access to a well-prepared, effective teaching force that includes a proportionate number of Black teachers. Our premise is that Black educators offer indispensable insights into the lived realities of navigating schooling institutions, as well as into the social structures of the United States. Therefore, every young person, regardless of racial or ethnic identity, can benefit from the influence of highly effective Black teachers in their life. Our mission is to develop, sustain, and retain excellent Black teachers and support the recruiting of new Black teachers for schools across Oakland and eventually across the country.
The role of Black teachers in schools is complex. Research has demonstrated the positive effects on students of color from having teachers of the same racial background. We also know that Black teachers are often asked to play roles, often unspoken, due to their race/ethnicity, which can impact their effectiveness and decision to continue teaching. For example, our initial research uncovered an expectation that Black teachers are inherently able to address the needs of all Black students and another that they will be a bridge between the school and community. Without the specific preparation and training to play these roles effectively, these affinity-based expectations can increase Black teachers’ loads and burnout. The Black Teacher Project focuses on the affinity-specific expectations of Black teachers in a variety of contexts and identifies strategies to support Black teachers’ effectiveness in the many different roles they play.
We believe that it is also important for non-Black students to have the experience of learning from Black adults. Given the small proportion of Black teachers in the US, we know that many non-Black people (including Latino/as, Asians, Native American and mixed race people, as well as, Whites) don’t get to learn with Black teachers during their K-12 experiences. Our work is about helping people have personal relationships with Black teachers, and it is also about supporting Black people in a position of sanctioned expertise.
While Barack Obama’s election didn’t end racism, it did help many people (Black and non-Black) see Black people in a position of expertise, leadership and power. We believe this view is critical to combat centuries of Black people being seen as less capable often as a result of the limited portrayals of Black people in the media.
The Black Teacher Project supports individuals in being excellent Black teachers, by valuing the intersectionality of all identities in multiple contexts. We are not encouraging teachers to perform a particular kind of Blackness or supporting individuals simply because of their racial identity. Our work is aimed at encouraging individuals to embrace and embody Black excellence that is authentic to who they are and in ways that serve their students.
Affinity-based groups have allowed teachers to address more specific issues in serving their students. Our research indicates that teachers who are able to have open dialogue about how their race impacts their practice have been able to engage in culturally responsive pedagogy from a more grounded and sustainable place. By engaging in this kind of affinity-based practice non-Black teachers will benefit from having colleagues who can articulate and respond to traditionally implicit expectations thereby thriving in their positions while providing a model for sustainable practice.