The State of Education: A New Podcast is Amplifying the Voices of Black Educators
- December 7, 2021
- Posted by: Black and Belonging
- Category: Liberating Practices
When Black students can see themselves in their teachers, a strong community bond is formed. This can help build an environment of support around both the students and the teachers and help everyone feel like they belong.
So, it is important to create a space where Black educators can connect and get insights into school diversity issues directly from the mouths of other Black educators. It is also important to amplify the voices of Black educators—ranging from veteran pros to those just entering the field.
A new podcast, called B.E.S.E. (Black Educators on the State of Education) with Brittani, does just that. This podcast aims to delve into why we need more Black teachers and how we can be intentional about being Black educators in the school environment. Listen to the first full episode here, where Brittani speaks with a seasoned Black female educator, Patrice High, to learn about her experience, her perspective, and her take on the state of Black teachers in education.
You can also read some of our favorite excerpts and insights from the episode below.
So, let’s get into it!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Patrice High, and I am currently in my 18th year of teaching. I received my undergrad degree in African and Afro-American Affairs from UNC Chapel Hill and my master’s degree in High Education-Student Affairs from Kaplan University. I started teaching fresh out of college and have since taught in every school environment across North Carolina, including rural, urban, and suburban districts and in both charter and public schools.
My mother was a teacher for 30 years. Service careers are big in my family, from politics to social services to education. So, becoming a teacher was always in my blood.
Why do you think it is important to have Black teachers?
In some areas, the students are used to having majority Black teachers because it is a majority-Black area. Personally, I had majority-Black teachers growing up, and I wanted to give that experience back to the students in my hometown. The teachers were more invested in their students’ success. As I grew up, my teachers were still in the area and continued to encourage me in my teaching career. I think that’s a very important experience for Black students to have.
What differences do you see teaching between rural and urban districts?
I’ve definitely experienced a different teaching environment in small rural districts vs. large urban districts. I only worked for a few years in a large urban district before I needed to move on because the environment felt less encouraging for students and teachers. There wasn’t a big supportive community around the kids in the same way, and I didn’t get much support as a new teacher. I felt like the tiniest fish in the ocean instead of big fish in a small pond. That said, it was still a good experience, and I learned a lot.
Do you think teacher prep programs and licenses are beneficial or obstacles for Black educators?
These programs were beneficial to me at the time, but the renewal process is tedious. Since I was not an education major in school, the programs were valuable in making me a well-rounded educator. I had the history curriculum down, but I needed to learn educator skills like classroom management.
But it can be a struggle for some people to pass the necessary tests. It can be a barrier for people who would be great educators, but they just aren’t good test-takers—just like some of our students! So, I see its value, but I would love to see alternatives so that it isn’t such a barrier for entry.
Do you feel safe voicing your concerns at school?
The leadership culture at a school always plays a big part in whether or not I feel comfortable sharing my concerns.
I was very vocal when I first started. I was young and inexperienced. Luckily, I had a principal who pulled me aside and helped me understand that there is a proper time and place to say things. Now that I have more experience, I only say what I feel must be said or will make an impact.
I’ve also found that some counties are worse environments for people of color to express themselves than others. Other counties are safe, supportive places to work. And some counties, there is a lot of talk like “we’re listening, we’re here for you,” but changes don’t actually get implemented.
The teaching force is more than 70% white and female, which does not match the student population. What do you think are the impacts of that?
The impact is that our kids don’t have the same lived experiences as their teachers. Teachers of color and students of color don’t automatically have the same experiences, but they can better understand each other and empathize with each other. I think the mismatch leads to kids acting out. It is a big issue, especially at the elementary school level.
Foundationally, kids need to see teachers that look like them earlier on. Many students don’t see their first Black teacher until high school, which is too late. They need to see themselves in their teachers much earlier. The subject areas that Black educators teach are important too. They are usually history teachers, but kids need to see them in other subjects too.
What are some obstacles for Black teachers in their careers?
Many teachers of color are seen as the disciplinaries, especially Black male teachers. But just because they have a relationship with a kid doesn’t mean it should be that kid’s only relationship. Other teachers have the responsibility to build relationships with their students. It’s not my job to manage another teacher’s class. So, Black teachers often do extra work without any corresponding recognition, promotion, or pay raise.
Also, it’s great to be a strong classroom leader, but many of us want to grow. When we express a desire to grow, we are often met with a lack of support, a lack of confidence, jealousy, or concerns over scarcity (the idea that there’s only room for one or two Black educators to advance). We are often made to feel guilty about moving on because “What about the kids?” So, we stagnate and stay in the classroom or burn out and leave education. This phenomenon happens in all districts and school types. There are a lot of politics in education that Black teachers get caught up in and have to learn to navigate.
We thoroughly enjoyed listening to this episode with Patrice and hope you did too! She provided a lot of great insights, but here are some of our favorites from this interview:
- We need more Black teachers at the elementary level to set the foundation for kids.
- There is a high attrition rate for Black educators because they are often loaded with extra responsibilities without corresponding compensation or opportunities to advance.
- Change is needed in the education system, but teachers cannot always change the system from the inside.