In Chicago Public Schools, it’s possible that some students will go from kindergarten to high school and never have a Black man as a teacher.
According to CPS data, fewer than 4% of CPS teachers are Black men. In a school district where 36% percent of students are Black, that’s a striking imbalance. Nationwide, that figure is even lower – just 2% of teachers are Black across the U.S.
Last fall, three Chicago high schools instituted a pilot program to address that imbalance. The Intro to Urban Education curriculum is designed to encourage young Black and Latino men to envision themselves at the head of the class. The program is administered by Thrive Chicago, and Iona Calhoun-Battiste, senior director of programs for the organization, said having more Black men leading classrooms can offer a boost to Black students’ self-esteem and sense of identity.
“It’s particularly important for young Black males to see themselves reflected in the everyday teachings and learnings so they can feel more empowered and more aligned and welcomed into an actual education system,” said Calhoun-Battiste. “Making school environments feel comfortable and welcoming to young Black males, we know all of that leads to positive educational outcomes.”
Calhoun-Battiste said the curriculum not only offers considerable social-emotional learning, it allows students the opportunity to run their own classroom and reflect on their experiences on both sides of the desk.
Chalkbeat Chicago senior reporter Mila Koumpilova reported on the issue in May. Koumpilova said coverage of the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black and Latino boys’ educational outcomes prompted a look at solutions CPS was employing. As part of her reporting, Koumpilova visited the Dyett High School for the Arts urban education program in the spring, where she met one student in the program who expressed a strong interest in teaching as a career.
“He spoke about the impact that the two Black male teachers he had during his time in CPS had on him,” she said. “His sense of being able to connect with him, and the sense that they saw him and understood him more fully than other educators could at times.”
Before he became a CPS principal and later president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, Troy LaRiviere was a classroom teacher. He said his time in CPS coupled with some outside inspiration lead him to join the ranks of educators.
“I was in the Navy and I didn’t want to go to college but my girlfriend…made me go to college. Once I did really well in college I looked at my experience as a CPS student and thought, I almost didn’t go to college — what was it about my experience in CPS that made me have such a low assessment of myself? Here I am with straight As at the University of Illinois and I thought I’d fail out … so I decided to become a teacher so that I could go into CPS and change it for other students,” he said.