RIVERSIDE, Calif. – William Alexander was all ears at his mother’s home in Riverside during President Barack Obama‘s back-to-school message to kids Sept. 8. The Oakland, Calif., elementary school teacher who was attending a conference knows the importance of encouraging children to stay in school. In 2004 he became the first in his family to go to college.
“My two older brothers dropped out of high school,” said Alexander. “My mother and father never finished. Now I’m trying to save my two nephews. There aren’t a lot of positive role models out there.”
Alexander grew up wanting to become an elementary school teacher but said he was frequently the butt of jokes among his Oakland classmates who called teaching “women’s work.”
“Guys would tease me. They’d say stuff like teaching children how to write their names for the first time or mediating kiddy temper tantrums is not ‘real’ teaching,” he recalled. “They’d go, ‘man, there’s no money in that.'”
Alexander attended predominately Black schools in Oakland for 10 years. He recalls walking into his high school Advanced Placement government class and found something he had never seen.
“I was shocked,” said Alexander “I had never had a Black male teacher before, except for P.E.” Alexander’s experience is remarkably common.
Only 2 percent of the nation’s 4.8 million teachers are Black men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The shortage of Black male teachers compounds the difficulties that many African-American boys face in school. About half of Black male students do not complete high school in four years, statistics show.
“I love teaching. I see myself as a role model,” said Alexander, who is talking about diversity and recruiting Black male teachers.
He is part of a growing chorus of educators, politicians and parents who say encouraging Black males to take pride in their education is everyone’s responsibility.
“Some of us do not consider teaching children to write their names for the first time or how to count to one hundred as ‘real’ teaching,” he said. “‘ Some of us, sad to say don’t like being hugged, let alone giving a hug. We view such activities as women’s work, and that is our loss.”
He said few school districts aggressively recruit or encourage men of any color to teach at the elementary level. Education experts claim tragically, never has there been more of a need for Black males to step up to the plate and serve as positive role models for children.