For Black Americans, having a Black teacher in school - especially during the crucial elementary school years - can be life-changing. Research has consistently shown that it has a significant impact.
According to a study done by the Institute of Labor Economics, “if a low-income black male student in third, fourth, or fifth grade has a black teacher, he is 39 percent less likely to drop out of high school. And if a low-income black male or female student of the same age has a black teacher (especially of the same gender), they are more likely to plan to attend a four-year college.”
The effect is even more profound when they have at least two Black teachers. But teachers of color represent only 18% of all teachers in America - and Black men only 2% - despite the fact that nearly half of all students in the United States are children of color.
That’s why it’s so significant that Rodney Robinson, a Black man, has been named 2019 Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers. He teaches Social Studies in Richmond, VA, at the Richmond Juvenile Justice Center - a school for young people who are moving through the criminal justice system.
Robinson is passionate about working with “the most vulnerable in society,” addressing the school-to-prison pipeline, increasing access to mental health services for young people, and restorative rather than punitive justice.
He’s been described by Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the president of the National Education Association, as “a beacon of light” and “a mentor, a leader and a role model in the fight for racial and social justice in education.”
When asked to describe his priorities, Robinson explained: “This year I hope to be the voice for my students and all students who feel unseen, unheard, unappreciated and undervalued in America.”
Having a Teacher of the Year who explicitly advocates for social and racial justice, and holds low-income, justice system-impacted youth of color as his priority may inspire people with similar priorities to join the profession.
An analysis by The Undefeated has shown that “the percentage of teachers of color in the workforce grew at twice the rate of white teachers from 1987 to 2012.” This is great news - but further analysis has shown that despite these gains, Black teachers still leave the profession at much higher rates than white teachers.
Time will tell if Rodney Robinson’s prominence throughout 2019 will affect the shortage of Black male teachers in America.