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Black Man Teaching a Classroom of Students
Op-Ed May 8, 2023

Improving the State of Education for Black Teachers and Students

Black Man Teaching a Classroom of Students

There is no Teacher Appreciation without the support of​​ Black teachers and students.

This year, Teacher Appreciation Week takes on a new and unprecedented meaning. Celebrated from May 8 through May 12, 2023, Teacher Appreciation Week honors teachers for their service to students, families, communities, and the field of education at large. Teaching is one of the oldest and most noble professions in our country​,​ and teachers play a vital role in shaping the lives of their students and society by providing necessary knowledge and skills, and inspiring curiosity, creativity, and confidence in students. 

Unfortunately, teachers face a number of challenges and demands that increase the difficulty of the profession and their ability to do their best work. Inadequate pay, unreasonable workloads, lack of resources, competition from other fields, and changing standards and instructional requirements that do not result in better instructional experiences for students are but a few of the challenges within education. These challenges increase the number of teachers leaving the field and reduce the number of persons who might consider teaching as a viable profession. The impact of COVID has further complicated the ability of teachers to exercise their skills as educational professionals and to remain in the profession overall. A 2021 report by the ​​Brookings Institution indicated how the pandemic had negatively shifted teachers' commitment to the profession.  

The field of education has been experiencing a decline for well over a decade. According to the ​​American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), ​​the number of students completing a teacher education program declined by almost a third between the 2008-09 and the 2018-19 academic years. The number of bachelor's degrees conferred in education declined by 22 percent between 2005-06 and 2018-19. Since the pandemic, about 20 percent of institutions reported a decline in new undergraduate enrollment. 

A consequence of both historical and contemporary forces, the decline in the field of education has also resulted in a decline in the already low level of diversity among teachers in the profession. One of the most significant events affecting the representation of Black educators, administrators, and other education professionals was the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision in 1954. While this decision represented a landmark victory for civil rights and supposed educational equity, it also resulted in the ​​dismissal, demotion, or forced resignation of qualified Black teachers, administrators, and other education staff who served Black-only schools. Consequently,​​ tens of thousands of Black teachers were left unemployed due to the refusal of white superintendents to include Black educators in positions of authority in white schools. 

Today, Black educators are still underrepresented in the U.S. public school system. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only 7 percent of public school teachers were Black in 2017-18, while 14-15 percent of public school students were Black. The reasons for this underrepresentation​​ include barriers to entry and retention in teacher preparation programs and schools, such as lack of financial resources and student debt, obstacles to college completion, discrimination and bias about educators of color, isolation, and lack of mentorship and support, and discrimination in licensure practices to name a few.  

Furthermore, it is doubtful that the current state of education will attract Black and other educators of color. ​​​​Legislation banning or limiting Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools and other censorship legislation, including disputes on the holistic teaching of African American history, has created a hostile environment for all teachers. State efforts to diminish compassionate, rigorous, and truthful teaching in schools represent not only an attack on the profession at large but an attack on Black teachers and students. Misinformation regarding elevated scholarship has resulted in book banning, punishment of educators (e.g. reprimands and firing), and an overall chilling effect that impacts teachers' abilities to teach to their full potential. Furthermore, these efforts have infiltrated institutions of higher education, impacting the ability of faculty to present quality educational experiences and conduct meaningful research, including the use of critical theories that help to solve systemic inequities. Additionally, these issues reduce the quality of postsecondary learning for Black students, other students of color, and all students in general. As politicians aim to thwart the teaching of Black history in its honest and complete form, they thwart the ability of Black educators to serve Black students in the fullest capacity and to exist in their professional spaces with cultural freedom.   

The historical loss of Black educators has had a detrimental impact on Black students and communities as well as dominant student groups. Black educators have the capacity to reduce implicit and explicit bias for Black and other students of color, serve as role models for students that do not often experience Black teachers before them, provide enhanced forms of culturally responsive instruction and support, ensure deep social-emotional connections and experiences for students, advocate from a deeply relatable perspective, and naturally maintain high expectations for Black students. 

As we reflect on Teacher Appreciation Week, we must evaluate not only the state of education on a national level but current issues of educational censorship and the historical impact of Brown v. Board of Education. These events, in their totality, represent a fundamentally intentional effort to eradicate Black teachers, administrators, and other educational staff from the profession. The NAACP will continue to support local, state, and national efforts to appreciate teachers through ​​actionable advocacy and policy that improves the state of education for Black teachers, students, and communities as well as education at large.  As we celebrate teachers during this unprecedented time, we acknowledge the work, skill, and necessity of educators across the country. To hear the collected stories of educators from around the country, be sure to follow us on Instagram or visit our Youtube channel at @NAACP.