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IN BLACK AND WHITE Is teaching colorblind?



Published: Mon, February 17, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Some say black teachers are in short supply nationally.

By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Michelle Brown has spent nearly a quarter of a century educating young minds in Youngstown city schools.

Brown, who is black, can be found any weekday morning working individually and in a group with the 10 pupils in her second- and third-grade classroom. The pupils are developmentally challenged and require one-on-one attention, but Brown says it doesn't matter. Since the third grade, she said, "I knew this is what I wanted to do."

It was in her third grade classroom that Brown took to a teacher, who was white, so much that she made a goal to be as instrumental in the life of another child. She graduated from North High School in Youngstown, went on to Youngstown State University and returned to the city schools to teach.

Some say there are too few stories like Brown's in the Youngstown and Warren school districts, where black teachers are said to be drastically under-represented.

Here are the numbers

Warren City School District has 42 black teachers in a system of 659 teachers. Youngstown City School District has 80 black teachers out of a total of 719 teachers.

According to Youngstown school board member Lock Beachum Sr., Youngstown and Warren are not alone. He said there is a national problem of not enough black teachers, and white teachers who are leaving city school districts or schools that are considered primarily black.

"There aren't enough black teachers to fill the void because there aren't enough incentives to attract them to the field," he said.

Beachum said the overall number of black teachers in the Youngstown School District has not changed in several decades. He said part of the problem is that most college-bound black students are not choosing education because they can make more money in other areas.

Warren school board member Robert Faulkner said the need for black teachers can especially be seen in the male teacher numbers in Warren.

"What I think should be seen as one of our main issues is that of our 42 black teachers, only six are male. I see that as a major issue for our young people," he said.

Faulkner said his education in the South included many black males. Those men, he said, had a major influence on his life as an example of what a man should be.

Beachum said young people, male and female, should be able to go to school and see people of their same background as an example of what they can do.

"Young people need to have role models," he said. "It's good for them to see someone who looks like them not only in the classroom but as principals, guidance counselors and in other areas."

According to Beachum, another issue for pupils in predominantly black schools nationally is that those white teachers with seniority and experience are leaving those districts for districts considered to be more favorable.

He said teachers in Youngstown do not necessarily leave the district but often transfer to schools considered more favorable, such as Chaney, Kirkmere or Volney Rogers.

"They transfer or leave because of a perception that it is better elsewhere, that they won't face the same social problems working somewhere else," he said. "That is the reality. It is sad, but it is the reality."

What principal said

Kate Good, who is white, is principal at Mary Haddow Elementary School on the city's East Side and has taught at predominantly black schools in the city for the past 16 years.

Good said white teachers who transfer out of predominantly black schools most often do so out of a lack of understanding of the cultural, social and economic issues of some of the youngsters in those schools. She said there is still the perception that the West Side is more desirable and affluent.

In an effort to combat the low number of black teachers, Beachum said Youngstown City School District is hoping to offer scholarships to students who will enter the education field and then commit at least two years to the city schools.

He said the hope is that once they are in the Youngstown school system, they will opt to stay a part of the system.

Beachum said the perception of city schools' being plagued with crime and other problems must also be eradicated to attract more teachers of all backgrounds.

Faulkner said the teaching profession has to be "put on a pedestal" as it was in the past, so promising black students again see the profession as honorable and worthy of their efforts.

He also said professors from historically black colleges and universities should have an open exchange of professors with universities like Youngstown State University so that young blacks choosing a career can see more blacks in education.

Faulkner also said there should be mentoring programs for young people on the high school level.

That sounds good to Brown. She said high school students should start looking at education as a career option by the 10th grade and teachers should be available to show them all the aspects of the field.

After all, it was a teacher who shaped her career choice in the third grade.

"I don't think [younger blacks] realize how much we are really needed in the system right now," she said.

jgoodwin@vindy.com




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