The city of Milwaukee and area schools are holding events to celebrate boys and men of color this week.
WUWM reporters recently explored how students of color are affected when they have teachers who look like them and what is being done to recruit more diverse teachers. In Milwaukee, most students are black and Hispanic, but 70 percent of their teachers are white.
The number of nonwhite, male teachers is especially low. Looking at Milwaukee Public Schools data from the 2017-18 school year, less than 4 percent of teachers were black men and 2.5 percent were Latino men — 20 percent are white men.
“Some of the narratives that exist around what men of color are capable of and where they fit in society —those are narratives we have to begin to change,” Baez said. He also pointed to the public scrutiny teachers face as a possible reason more black and Latino men don't enter the profession. “You really have to have a strong conviction to be a teacher.”
Baez and Ramey have both worked in schools. Baez was a sixth-grade teacher and Ramey was a paraprofessional. As some of the only men of color in their schools, both say teachers and administrators repeatedly turned to them to deal with trouble-making black male students.
“It seemed like, for them, no one else was willing to listen and understand what they were dealing with,” Ramey said. “Everybody wanted to run to [me] to say ‘can you deal with such-and-such.’ It was tough.”
Ramey and Baez say MPS is casting a wide net to recruit more diverse teachers. In partnership with MATC and UWM, MPS is helping high-potential paraprofessionals become certified teachers.
The district is also working on ‘grow your own’ efforts to foster an interest in teaching in MPS high schoolers. Baez says Pulaski High School and James Madison Academic Campus are in the beginning stages of creating teaching ‘tracks.’
In addition to building a more diverse teacher workforce, Ramey and Baez emphasize the importance of culturally-responsive training for all teachers, including the 70 percent who are white.
“Yes, it would be great to have more black male teachers in front of our young boys,” Ramey said. “But we also want teachers to take a culturally-responsive practice lens … and look in the mirror and deal with their implicit biases.”
MPS now has culturally responsive teacher fellows, with the intention that those teachers will help spread what they’ve learned in their individual schools.
Ramey and Baez held listening sessions with black and Latino boys last year to hear about their school experiences. Ramey said many felt isolated from their teachers.
Baez added, “Their sense of identity at school had to be compromised. They felt they needed to be one way on their way to school, they needed to be another way in school. They were constantly adjusting to what they felt they needed to be in school to survive. And the teachers were not helping the situation.”
Baez and Ramey say the focus on black and Latino male achievement needs to extend beyond the school district, to the whole community.
“We can’t keep blaming our young boys for being a problem, they’re not the ones that’s broken,” Ramey said. “The systems we created are broken.”
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