Black Male Teachers Needed: New University of Penn Program Aims To Attract Them

A doctoral candidate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania recently stood in front of high school students from the Homewood Children’s Village and asked how many planned to go to college. All hands shot up, but when he asked how many planned to go into education, the hands dropped down.

National statistics echo this scene, which involved about 20 black students, most from Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12 in Homewood. Less than 2 percent of teachers in the U.S. are African-American males, according to Robert Millward, education professor at IUP. To try to increase those numbers, Mr. Millward started the Black Men Teaching Initiative, which led to the teens, male and female, from Homewood Children’s Village attending a workshop at IUP.

Through workshops such as this one, billboards on buses and changes in admissions policies, professors and administrators at IUP, California University of Pennsylvania, Point Park University and Community College of Allegheny County are trying to persuade young black men to pursue higher education and to become teachers. The second task is more difficult than the first, Mr. Millward explained.

“They say that teachers don’t make much,” he said. “They see teaching as a woman’s profession. They say, ‘I didn’t have a good experience in school, so why would I want to spend life teaching?’ “

He traces their lack of interest back to Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional.

“The African-Americans were bused over to the white schools,” he said. “It wasn’t a two-way route. Many black principals and teachers lost their jobs.”

The number of African-American teachers was almost cut by half, going from 80,000 nationwide in 1954 to 42,000 in 1965, he said.

Of the few who were offered jobs at white schools, the positions open to them were often less prestigious or lower-paid than the ones they previously had held, he said.

Rich Milner, a professor at University of Pittsburgh who specializes in urban education, said that before 1954, teaching was one of the three main professions that allowed African-Americans to move into the middle class; the others were nursing and the clergy. Teachers were seen as community leaders beyond the walls of the classroom, he said.

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