Nonprofit works to get more Black male teachers into the classroom

Minnesota has one of the worst education achievement gaps in the country between Black and white students. Studies show students of color stay in school longer if they have a teacher of color. And, now, a new nonprofit is trying to get more Black male teachers into the classroom.

"I just love working with kids. They are awesome. They are a joy to work with," Mr. Ted said.

For the last eight years, Mr. Ted has schooled second-graders on a variety of subjects at North Park School for Innovation in Columbia Heights. But just by being in the classroom, he may be teaching them one of the most important lessons he can. 

"I just love building connections, relationships with the students and just watching them grow that makes me happy," Mr. Ted said.

Mr. Ted graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Biology, but after working in after-school programs and seeing the impact an African American man could have on students of color, he fell in love with the idea of being a teacher. 

"I feel our students are more connected to me and they are more motivated to learn. The fact that they see someone who looks like them makes them want to be like you," he added.

Mr. Ted is one of more than 60 African American men in fellowships with the organization Black Men Teach. Its goal is to increase the representation of teachers of color in Minnesota by recruiting and retaining Black make educators, particularly for younger grades.  

"Black men, especially in elementary education across Minnesota, are virtually non-existent," he said.

Out of the roughly 63,000 active teachers in Minnesota, only about 220, or 0.5%, are Black men, executive director Markus Flynn said. Studies show Black students who have a teacher of color are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college. 

"We want to create that pathway, so there is a steady influx of adequate representation of Black men in the classroom, so we know we have to work a lot at the high school level and college level to just build that pipeline," Flynn said.

Flynn says Black Men Teach starts in high school by getting young men to understand teaching is a viable career. At the college level, it provides financial support while its teaching fellowship places the men in different schools and helps them pay off their student loans or gives them retention bonuses. 

"The reason you see young people, men want to be rappers, singers, sports stars is because the marketing is incredible. Last time I checked, they weren't marketing teaching like that. If they had the same marketing reels for teachers, I bet people would think about it differently," Flynn added

Keon Lewis is in his second year teaching second grade in the same district where he was once a student. He said he heard about Black Men Teach while he was in college at Minnesota State University Mankato where he was one of the few Black men in the education program. 

"In college, they were able to support me with scholarships and also stipends when I was student teaching. So that alleviated the pressures of pay during that time. They helped me finish out those years in college strong, rather than having to work multiple jobs to stay afloat," Lewis said.

Now he’s one of the three Black male teachers at his school. 

"I say it's a brotherhood. Just to have teachers around here that look like you that you can talk with just at events and things like that. Just to know there are people supporting your same cause and are with you on this journey has been amazing."

In addition to mentoring young African American teachers like Lewis, Mr. Ted hopes he will also inspire some of his students of color to consider a career in the classroom. 

"Any Black teacher helps connect with Black and brown students and for me having the Black and brown students connect to you will in turn make them more motivated to learn, motivated to work hard for you and be successful in the classroom and hopefully grow up to be next teachers," Mr. Ted said.