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Where are all our black men in education?

This is a transcript of an interview I took part in 2017. The purpose of the interview was to explore the shortage of black men in education. Here's my take on it.

A number of weeks ago I was contacted by a lovely young lady called Tobi who wanted to write an article about the lack of black men in education. As it is a topic I'm interested in researching myself , I said i'd love to! This blog is therefore written in the format of the interview that would have taken place between myself and Tobi (Twitter: @theycallhertobs). Enjoy!

"There is a lack of representation on the behalf of the black community within schools and a lack of black male educators means there is a lack of role models that young black men can genuinely relate to and be inspired by"

1. How did you get into teaching? The summer I left University, I was unemployed so I obtained my multi-sports coaching badges.I was a multi-sports coach, working in different primary schools within Tower Hamlets, coaching various sports during lunch time and after school clubs. In one of the schools I enjoyed working in, I asked the Head If I could do some voluntary work in the classrooms just to gain some experience and she said I could fill in for a guy who was leaving on paternity leave for two weeks. The role was to be a 1:1 for a severely autistic boy who was non-verbal. I had no experience of working in a school let alone with a child who had Special Educational Needs but I agreed to do it. She suggested I went through an agency so that I could actually be paid to do the job. Those two weeks then turned into 5 months and at the end of the year I knew I wanted to work in education. The school offered me a permanent contract as a learning support assistant and my job role entailed working as a 1:1 with a pupil who had ADHD (Attention Disorder Hyperactivity Disorder) and severe behaviour difficulties. After a successful year working with him, the school encouraged me to do my teachers training year, which I was very reluctant to do, as I had no interest being a teacher, although I knew I could and should be doing more than what I was currently doing at the time. Once I had completed my teachers training year, I objected to starting my NQT year straight away so I could really figure out what I wanted to do and where. So that year ,I continued at the school as a cover teacher.That 4 year journey sadly came to an end when I applied for my NQT year in an SEN school for children with Social Emotional and Mental Health issues. They offered me the job [the first NQT they had ever appointed may I add] and I started there in June 2016.However, I  officially started my NQT year in September 2016. 2.How long have you been doing it for? Well i’m currently in the middle of my NQT year, but If we include my role as a cover teacher , almost 2 years now. 3. My article is about Black Males in education, what do you think of the current state of affairs? There simply isn’t enough of us, particularly in Primary education. There are a few mentors, Learning Support Assistants and Teaching Assistants but very few black male teachers. It’s quite sad actually because people underestimate the influence and impact males can have within a child’s education and there simply isn’t enough males in general. However, when you do find males within Primary education, very few of them are black. 4. Why do you think it is, what it is? From personal experience, as a black student and as an educator who has had to support struggling black males in school, there isn’t enough black male teachers to relate to, and yes it is important. We take it for granted like many other things within education but when statistics for decades have shown that young black males are the biggest underachievers of all the ethnic minority groups, you have to consider the relationship between a lack of black male educators and our underwhelming performances in school. There is a lack of representation on the behalf of the black community within schools and a lack of black male educators means there is a lack of role models that young black men can genuinely relate to and be inspired by. The INDEPENDENT (2015) reported that only 6.7% of the teaching force are from ethnic minority groups compared to 12.8% of the population as a whole. Even more alarming, when it comes to trainee teachers, out of the 20% of black trainee teachers reported in the country, the proportion of black recruits is just 2%. A lack of representation in schools is just one of the significant reasons for the failure of black boys in schools but nonetheless it’s crucial. Unsurprisingly, the black male is more likely than it’s white counterpart to go to prison, to be involved in a gang and/or to be killed from gang violence once he has left school at 16. It all interlinks with one another. 5. I’ve been trying for a while to find a black male primary school teacher, it’s proven really difficult. Why do you think black men don’t go into primary teaching? To answer that simply, there isn’t enough reason to. At least, that’s what it seems like. Of all the professions, teaching is often perceived as the “less professional” of professions and the salary reflects that. Teachers are paid nowhere near as much as engineers, lawyers and surgeons and some may argue it is one of the most important if not the most important job in our society. There’s also a case to be argued that there aren’t enough black male educators who have inspired black males to want to become black educators. This isn’t because the black teachers aren’t doing a good job, there just isn’t any around! I personally don’t recall seeing a black male teacher when I was in Secondary, who made me think “ Yeah you know what, I like that guy, I like how he conducts himself, how passionate he is, how good he is at his job, how respected he is,  how cool he is. I want to be like him. I want to be a teacher” . Never. And in Primary….well let’s just forget about that. There wasn’t any black male teachers full stop. That train of thought can only begin to take place if there’s actually black teachers to be inspired by and that simply isn’t the case. We may be seeing more but there certainly isn’t enough, particularly in Primary. Lastly, people underestimate the impact our culture(s) have on the lack of primary teachers. Within the black community, teaching is not a career path many parents dream of for their children and a teacher isn't someone who is widely respected. This is down to their own experiences of teachers back home (In the Caribbean or Africa) where they were often underpaid, under appreciated and just not respected at all. It’s that thinking, that has lead to many parents frowning upon the idea of their child wanting to be a teacher. This was the case with my own parents. The day I told my dad I was thinking of going into teaching he pretty much ignored me. That was his way of saying “get serious”. A lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, these are the things they wished for me, not to be a measly teacher. Why do they think like this? Well simply because they do not see teachers at the pinnacle of their profession, they don’t see the financial benefits from a stressful job and they don’t particularly see it as a job that encourages someone to “move up the ladder” in life. For my parents, it wasn’t the career that would get me out of the worst borough in London and propel me to wealth and prosperity. Where some of this is true, it’s mainly incorrect. There are opportunities for growth in your career as a teacher and there’s certainly the opportunity to accumulate good money if not very good money . However, there aren’t enough examples of black people within our community who can prove this. How many black teachers are at the pinnacle of their teaching profession? How many black head teachers do you see?  How many curriculum or policy makers do you know of? How many black people own a multi-academy trust which has 10,50,100 schools within it's umbrella of schools. Hardly any. Until that changes, it will be a tough job getting rid of our cultural demons. Ultimately, black males just don’t know how much they’re needed within our schools, especially in primary. If they could understand or somehow experience or see the impact they could have on our young people in general, maybe they’d consider teaching. Maybe. However, just like myself when I was younger, black boys want to do something or be someone that was cool, respected, fun and made crap loads of money i.e Football, Music and for some [not me] selling drugs. Many black males don’t view teaching to offer those things. Our “successful” heroes are the athletes, the musicians, the actors and the entertainers but not many of our heroes are our teachers. 6. How do you think your role impacts black boys you work with? If you think there's any impact to begin with. First and foremost, I take pride in being myself. Part of the education of a child is to experience different faces, points of views and stories from different people. I like to think I make an impact by being myself and sharing the skills, qualities and experiences that I exclusively have. It is no different for my black pupils. However, as a black-male educator, the way I can have an impact on black boys is by being my true self and sharing all of these things but within all of that, being able to relate to them. That is the key. I can relate to their cultural experiences and pressures at home, I can relate to the peer pressures within their local communities, understanding the prejudice and stereotypes they are succumbed to [that is still a mechanism for teachers teaching our black pupils].  When you can relate to someone there’s an understanding of how you will need to cater for their needs. If you don’t relate, you can’t always do that. That’s not to say a white teacher can not be a great teacher for a black male, because that’s far from the truth. My best teacher was an elderly, posh, white woman. However, when we consider the current state of affairs with young black males in education, and we look at the bigger picture, it’s clear to see that a lack of black teachers in schools is playing a part in the struggle. Sometimes, just being there is how you make a difference. Black males just need to be there. Be a presence. Share your skills, experiences, your creativity and be bloody good at it. Be the best at it. That's how you make a lasting impact that goes beyond the classroom experience. 7. Black boys are disproportionately excluded in the uk, what part do you think representation plays? I think it plays a big, big part. As well as being disproportionately excluded in the UK, for decades, we have been the biggest underachievers in our schools. Black males are not applying to be teachers, and as mentioned before, out of those who are trainee teachers (20%) only 2% actually go on to become recruited teachers. A lack of black male teachers has to be considered as a realistic issue when we try to understand the underachievement and exclusion of black boys in schools. 8. What can we do to bring more BM into education? - A shift in cultural thinking has to take place. We need more people from the black community promoting, suggesting and recommending teaching to our black males. The idea that it’s not the kind of career to get into often starts from the family and then the wider community. - For those of us who are already in teaching, we simply need to be the best at what we do. Not just for the younger generation, but also for our peers. When people see the influence we are having on individual lives, families and communities, people will be attracted to the idea of teaching. - For the black males already teaching, we have to be ambitious and strive for more. However, there has to be an understanding that this isn’t for our own personal gain but for the bigger picture, the bigger cause. Too many of our black boys our failing school, going to prison or being killed as a result of gang violence. If we truly want to see a change in our communities we need to be the leaders in our communities. A black teacher can lead in his classroom but that impact is limited. We need more middle leaders,senior leaders, head teachers, policy makers, curriculum makers, CEOs of multi-academy trusts and education ministers. Education is just one of the integral functions of a child’s development, if we can influence through education at a greater level, we will undoubtedly be making the impact [we have probably doubted we could make] on our communities. Subsequently, if we can be the leaders in our field, we will be inspiring the next generation to be what they were born to be, great. - The money being invested to tackle inequality in schools should be used for the training of CEOs of multi-academy trusts and heads of multi-academy trusts. These middle aged white-men ultimately dictate the status quo. If black boys are the biggest underachievers and are more likely to be excluded from school, then there’s a case to argue that these are the effects institutional racism. This becomes more believable when the figures from the department of education highlight only 6.7% of the teaching force are from ethnic minority groups compared to 12.8 % of the population as a whole. In addition, only 2.4% of head teachers are from ethnic minority groups (INDEPENDENT ,2005). Are ethnic minorities failing to apply for these positions or are they not being given these jobs intentionally? If we are to see more ethnic minorities becoming head teachers in schools, unconscious bias should be mandatory training for leaders and governors of education.

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