Check out this blog by Vernon Birmingham who is the KCTR Talent Manager: Recruitment and Placement
My Student Experience with Black Educators
I was fortunate to experience my first Black teacher in my first year of school. Thinking back, it still shocks me that I had a Black teacher in Kindergarten. It is also unfortunate I would not have another Black teacher for six years. This experience, in sixth grade, was different not only because it was my first Black male teacher, but the first Black male teacher I had ever even seen. Even in middle school, I remember looking at our yearbooks and asking the question, “Why are there only 8 Black teachers?” The question was an important one that still begs to be answered today.
The State of Education: A Lack of Diversity in Teachers
Why are there not more teachers that reflect the population of the students? A 2017 study by the Institute of Labor Economics showed that low-income Black students who have a Black teacher – man or woman – for at least one year in elementary school are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to consider college. Only seven percent of teachers nationwide are Black. Black men make up only two percent.
My Journey to Education
What can we do to help change this narrative? I told myself I wanted to follow the example of the few Black teachers in my life. I wanted to be a Black educator who impacted the lives of Black students.
And I did it. I went back and taught at my former high school for five years. I also spent seven years working and teaching in entrepreneurial education, focusing on students from low-income schools. One of the highlights of my life is being afforded the opportunity to work with students from at-risk communities, traveling around the country with them to learn about entrepreneurship and economics, many of whom had never left the states of Kansas and Missouri. One of these students ran into my oldest daughter recently and shared how much she loves and appreciates Mr. Birmingham for the time I invested into her education.
My Why for Choosing Education
So why did I become an educator? Because I had teachers who looked like me who impacted my life. I like to think I played an important role in the lives of the students who came across my path over the years. You remember the first Black male teacher I had in middle school? In 2015, he ended up being a high jump coach for my club track team. That tells us two things: (1) He was so important in my life and development that more than 30 years later, we were still in communication; and (2) Because he was respected and admired, I trusted him to be involved with
something close and dear to me: the dozens of kids under my care. In this same track club, I have former students who still travel far distances for me to coach their kids. They find me as a valuable asset based on their positive experiences with me as an educator.
The Legacy of Black Teachers
Recently, I supported a former student in his “side hustle”, which is selling meals on Friday. He calls it “The Friday Fills.” When I picked up my meal, his mom shared a story I didn’t remember. She said, “Mr. Birmingham, I don’t know if you remember, but I am still thankful for the recommendation letter you wrote for D back when he entered college. It meant a lot then, and it still means a lot today.” She continued, “As a Black male, you were critical in his growth as a student in high school, and to have someone who looked like him not only holding him accountable but showing him love meant the world to me.”
This young man is now an elementary school teacher educating young people in Kansas City. I asked him recently why he went into teaching. His answer gives me hope that we will continue to see more Black men enter the education space to impact lives. He explained to me he was going into architecture but volunteered at a neighboring school in his senior year in high school. He also worked in the summers at the Wyandot Center for Community Behavior. Both experiences helped him realize that teaching was the field for him. He thought aboutthose teachers he had in school that were phenomenal and gave young African-American kids hope, despite their background and upbringing. It was important to him that students see someone like themselves in the teaching profession, and afterdoing it for ten years, he has no regrets.
Many Black teachers have similar stories that led to them being in the classroom. They all realized two valuable truths. One, they can make a difference. And two, students need teachers that look like them.
“They all realized two valuable truths. One, they can make a difference. And two, students need teachers that look like them.”
The fun fact is, for some, it was recognized early on, while for others this happened later in life. For those who are just now discovering these truths, there is good news. It is not too late to take on this challenge and be an agent of change. At KCTR, we are excited about new initiatives created to help put more Black teachers in the classroom. In 2020, KCTR was selected for a grant that would help recruit, develop, and retain new Black teachers. Through financial assistance, scholarships, and enhancing the work of affinity spaces, we hope to be a catalyst and trusted partner in increasing the numbers of Black educators in Kansas City. Trust me, it is rewarding and life changing, and you will make a difference. Submit you application today to join KCTR!