Through Our Eyes: Perspectives from Black Teachers


By Ashley Griffin and Hilary Tackie

“The difference I would like to make is a difference that my 5th-grade teacher, an African-American woman, made on me,” says an elementary teacher from Oakland, Calif., who is also a black woman. She credits that teacher with instilling in her a love of math but also with fostering the self-confidence that would buoy her when other teachers doubted her ability. Now, she tries to give all her students — and especially her black students — that same assurance. “I make sure I get to know each and every one of my kids, and let them know that they can do it.”

This teacher experienced what research has shown: The skills that black teachers bring to their work often go far beyond their roles as content experts and instructors. As role models, parental figures, and advocates, they tend to build relationships with students of color that help those students feel connected to their schools (King, 1993). In the classroom, they tend to be “warm demanders,” holding all students to high expectations, both academically and as members of a disciplined learning community (Ware, 2006). As colleagues, they tend to enhance cultural understanding among teachers and administrators of differing races and backgrounds (Villegas, Strom, & Lucas, 2012). Further, black teachers are especially likely to teach in high-need schools that predominantly serve students of color and low-income students (Achinstein et al., 2010), and they are more likely than other teachers to continue working over many years in schools serving black students (Simon, Johnson, & Reinhorn, 2015).

And yet, for all the strengths they bring to the profession, black teachers comprise just 7% of the teaching population in the nation’s public schools. (Altogether, teachers of color represent 18% of the teaching force.) Black students make up about 16% of the K-12 student enrollment.

Recognizing the need to diversify the teacher workforce, many state and district leaders have made it a priority over the past two decades to recruit greater numbers of black and Hispanic teachers (Neason, 2016; O’Connor, 2015; Cavazos, 2015). And their efforts appear to be paying off