Philly district urged to recruit more black men to teach

William Hayes

William Hayes

A group of area teachers has detailed a plan to increase the number of black men in the profession.

The Black Male Educators Report, compiled by a new organization called the Fellowship, calls for the Philadelphia School District to increase its recruitment of black men, incorporate more black men as paraprofessionals, and establish summer job opportunities for black men interested in education.

The Fellowship also announced it will help pilot five elective courses in Philadelphia high schools intended to attract more students to the profession and establish a residency program for black men interested in becoming teachers.

The group’s goal is to recruit 1,000 black men as teachers in Philadelphia public schools by 2020.

“We talk about excellence, not just flooding the pipeline with more black men. What we want is highly effective black male teachers,” said Fellowship co-founder Sharif El-Mekki, a principal at Mastery-Shoemaker middle school in West Philadelphia. “We know that they have to be coached. We know they have to be supported. We know they have to be built.”

Just 4.5 percent of Philly teachers are black men

Nationwide, just 2 percent of teachers are black men, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In Philadelphia, about 4.5 percent of teachers are black men, according to the school district.

Meanwhile, black males make up about a quarter of all Philadelphia public schools students. There is some research to suggest students learn better from teachers of their own race, but the Fellowship’s report argues all students would benefit from a more diverse teaching workforce.

“It is about building a broad coalition that values the dire need for the diversification of our schools’ educators and collectively works to make systemic changes,” according to the report.

The Fellowship emerged from informal gatherings El-Mekki and colleagues would have at a restaurant in West Philadelphia. Each educator in the group would share something positive and something negative from the prior week, and the members would work through those issues together.

At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, the Fellowship officially met for the first time. It has since hosted a job fair for black male teaching candidates and received support from some well-credentialed backers.

Earlier this year, it held a town hall with acting U.S. Secretary of Education John King. The group’s work has also been endorsed by Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite and Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera.

On Saturday, the Fellowship held its fourth official gathering, highlighted by an appearance from David Johns, executive director of the White House’s Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

“The world needs to see us outside of the lies that so often are told about us,” Johns told the crowd gathered at school district headquarters on North Broad Street. “Hear me when I say we appreciate you and we need you.”

Re-energizing recruitment

In addition to its outward-facing agenda, the Fellowship also encourages its own members to be more active evangelists for the teaching profession.

“People are not encouraging our best and brightest to become teachers. And it’s almost everything but,” said El-Mekki. “What we wanna do is counter that and say, ‘No, it’s an amazing profession.’ We should tell them, ‘You can be a leader. You can lead 100 students. You can lead a school.’”

Tamir Harper, 16, a student at Science Leadership Academy in Center City, said he wants to teach, but that he’s often dissuaded by his own teachers.

“We have to recruit more. We have to let young people know that education is key, and you can go change a life,” he said.

Tamir, by the way, is undaunted by the discouragement. After teaching, he said, he’d like to become either superintendent of the Philadelphia schools, mayor — or both.

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