Black Teachers in Short Supply

Karen Bouffard, Detroit News, Nov. 3, 2008

As a black gym teacher in the mostly white Monroe school district for 33 years, Selma Rankins taught more than physical fitness.

All of his students learned about famous black scientists, writers and doctors. And for the minority students who were black, he was a special mentor and friend.

Rankins, now retired, has been visiting Downriver school districts this fall to encourage them to hire more black teachers at a time when most Michigan colleges have few African-American students learning to teach.

“You have black kids, but not one teacher that looks like them,” Rankins, 65, recently told members of the Trenton Board of Education; he’s also addressed school boards in Flat Rock, Gibraltar and Southgate, and plans to bring his message to as many districts as he can.

Blacks made up less than 1 percent of the faculty in 38 public school districts in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties this past school year, including 16 that had no black teachers, records from the state Center for Educational Performance and Information show.

The future seems grim as well, with Michigan colleges turning out fewer African-American students who want to teach. And with most black teachers taking jobs in urban areas, few recruits are available to teach in suburban communities.

It’s a gap that robs children of powerful role models and diverse perspectives, experts say.

Students from districts with few black teachers may lack preparation for the diverse cultures they will experience when they enter college or the workforce, according to Dorinda Carter Andrews, an assistant professor of teacher education at Michigan State University who has studied how race and equity affect the learning process.

“For many of my white students, I’m the first black teacher they’ve had, and that’s at the college level,” Carter Andrews said. “The disadvantage is that there is a lack of exposure to a racially diverse perspective on life, education and learning.”

Suburbs lack black teachers

This past school year, 19.5 percent of Michigan school children were black, but 8.4 percent of teachers were African-American. And slightly more than half of the state’s African-American teachers are employed by the Detroit Public Schools—4,796 of Michigan’s 9,358 black teachers.

Drama teacher Randy Taylor, one of six black teachers in the East Detroit Public Schools district, said he believes some African-Americans may be hesitant to apply for jobs in newly integrated suburban communities.

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Grosse Pointe is among a number of districts that are trying to catch up with their growing black populations. Administrators set aside a portion of every administration meeting to talk about diversity issues. They’re studying the book “Courageous Conversations About Race,” by Glenn Singleton. And Thomas Harwood, assistant superintendent for human resources, said they’re working on diversifying their staff.

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