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As a college freshman I was invited by a youth pastor to become a volunteer at a local Detroit public school. Accepting his invitation, I found myself mentoring and tutoring male students. This experience, coupled with my desire to help solve the disparity facing students of color, inspired me to pursue a career in education. 

That initial experience led to 20 years of teaching and creating spaces like the Lyricist Society for young people, and more recently serving as an educator ambassador for Teach 313, where I get to uplift the teaching profession and celebrate Detroit teachers. Along the way I’ve been sustained by camaraderie with other black male educators and the fulfillment brought by being an educator in Detroit.

Nationwide, there is an indisputable achievement gap. Black boys lag behind their counterparts academically and are far more likely to experience discipline. The reasons for this are complex, with much consideration given to false perception and lowered expectations exhibited by some educators whose culture and background differ.

So how can we do right by our students?       

Research supports that students of color tend to achieve more when they have teachers who mirror their culture and background. A March 2017 study by the Institute of Labor Economics found that when black male students have at least one black male teacher in grades three through five, high school dropout rates decrease significantly.

Having a teacher who looks like you and who you can relate to, can help students feel more comfortable, confident and enthusiastic. This is not to disparage the work of teachers who are not of color. It’s simply to acknowledge the unfortunate truth of racial bias within our educational system and propose that part of the solution is to draw more black males to the profession.

The solution seems simple: Recruit more black male teachers. However, black male teachers make up only two percent of the teaching force in America. This is due to myriad circumstances.

So how can we widen the funnel for black men to consider teaching? This is a simple answer: Recruit more black men first as volunteers and mentors.

 Recently, the staff at Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, the only all-male public school in Michigan, endeavored to increase the presence of black men by inviting community members to volunteer. Black men from every walk of life and profession answered the call. I asked each man who volunteered if he would consider becoming an educator full-time, and it lifted my soul to hear the responses.

Through this experience, I learned something powerful: Black men do not lack desire to become educators. Rather, complex barriers may be holding them back. To solve this we must provide a clear path for black men to volunteer in the classroom. Then, those who pursue education must be supported through mentorship and benefits like the ones Teach 313 provides. 

Quan Neloms is an ambassador for Teach 313, a movement focused on the recruitment and quality of life of teachers in Detroit.

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