Preserving Black History Starts with Ensuring There Are Black Teachers

Lyles: Burnout among Black teachers has reached critical levels. Some ways to address these issues and strengthen the educator pipeline.

Help fund stories like this. Donate now!

Every month, but especially February, is a time to remember and celebrate Black history. But what happens to that history without those who pass it on? Black educators — who play a critical role in uplifting Black history and shaping the next generation — are overstressed and overstretched, and many are leaving education altogether.

Will a new generation of Black teachers step in to replace them? What must it feel like for would-be teachers to see the classroom become a culture war battleground, with educators facing public attacks and scrutiny? Will they still want to take up that mantle?

I know firsthand that the impact of Black educators reverberates far beyond the classroom. Like many Black folks from the South, I’m the child of two Black teachers who brought the Black teaching tradition into our home and immersed us in spaces that reinforced those principles, from church to Jack and Jill and beyond. At Spelman College, I was honored to learn from professors who were committed to fostering the next generation of Black, college-educated women. Today, I work with DonorsChoose, helping teachers ensure their students have access to resources to help them fulfill their potential.

Black educators don’t just communicate history, they shape it. There is a deep legacy of teaching in the Black community. At a time when Black people had limited employment options, teaching was an important way into the workforce, and education was in and of itself an act of resistance. It’s no coincidence that so many civil rights leaders began as educators. Septima Clark, the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, whose literacy and citizenship workshops helped tens of thousands of Black people register to vote, taught in public schools for 30 years. As Clark famously said, “Literacy means liberation.”

Black educators like Clark played complex, multi-layered roles, telling the stories of Black history and showing students not just how to navigate a system in which they were seen as second-class citizens, but how to question and change it. Black teachers today carry on that proud legacy. For many, teaching is an act of liberation.

Their impact is just as powerful: Black students who have at least one Black teacher between grades 3 and 5 are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than those who don’t. Black teachers are less likely than their white colleagues to suspend or expel Black students and more likely to refer them to gifted and talented programs. The benefits go to all students: Black male teachers spend more than double the amount of time outside of class mentoring and counseling students than their white counterparts.

Yet burnout among Black teachers has reached critical levels, pushing many to move to careers outside of education. Black teachers experience significantly more burnout than their white counterparts, and in a 2023 survey, more than 1 in 3 said they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the year. They also face greater financial obstacles. Black college graduates average $25,000 more in student loan debt that white graduates, and they face the highest monthly student loan payment of any ethnic group

Any effort  to ensure that future generations of students benefit from Black teachers must begin with investment in the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. While HBCUs make up just 3% of the nation’s colleges and universities, they produce half of all Black educators nationwide. A recent report from the United Negro College Fund cited HBCU programs as a model to follow in recruiting and training prospective Black teachers and offered recommendations on how to support them. DonorsChoose’s own research indicated that educators who are graduates of HBCUs showed the highest student engagement of any group surveyed.

To address these issues and strengthen the pipeline of Black teachers, there are steps that can be taken at every level. Government and private education funders can increase their support of HBCU education programs, so they have the resources to implement these types of innovative and effective efforts. They can also invest in financial aid for prospective teachers — fixing loan forgiveness programs and supporting comprehensive programs covering tuition, certification preparation and testing fees, field placement expenses, and other costs. States can also support training for paraprofessionals and other school staff who are already working with students to help them achieve certification as educators.

Districts can get Black students into the educator pipeline while they’re still in high school by exposing them to the value of teaching careers. By cultivating relationships with the education programs and alumni networks of HBCUs and other higher education institutions, they can help students connect with mentors and build relationships that can support them along the path, from choosing a college to completing their degree, attaining certifications and finding work in the field. They can even begin their hiring processes early, to attract a larger and more diverse pool of candidates.

This Black History Month, let’s remember Black history and those who teach it. Let’s invest in the future by investing in those who shape it and whose passion and care will inspire the next generation of Black students and all students.

Help fund stories like this. Donate now!

Republish This Article

We want our stories to be shared as widely as possible — for free.

Please view The 74's republishing terms.

On The 74 Today