“Like am I even smart”

By Zion Brooks

It’s always easier to communicate with people you feel you relate to. This is especially true in the classroom. 


Studies show that the race and gender of the educator play a huge role in how well the child learns, studies also show that female students learn better when taught by female teachers and males learn better from male teachers. 


Despite this information,  teachers are remaining mostly female. 77% of teachers in both elementary and high schools are women. Although the teaching field has become more diverse since the ’80s (in the past 3 decades) it's still 80% white, meaning, only 20% of teachers are people of color and merely 2% of that are black men. All of these factors have negative effects on the education we are providing the youth. But what about students of color?

Research has shown that teachers tend to evaluate black students differently from white students.  Preschool teachers criticize black children more harshly for the same behavior displayed by their white counterparts. White teachers are also less likely than black teachers to assign black students to gifted and talented programs even if their test scores match those of other white students. When black students had both a white and black teacher, the black teachers consistently had higher expectations for the children’s potential. Issues like these further the severity of issues of race in schools, issues such as school to prison pipeline.

Having this information our Philadelphia Public Schools like Girls High and Masterman make no revisions to prevent incidents like these from accruing. Alison Fortenberry and Jasmine Dixon two rising seniors from Masterman High school have seen issues of inequality play out in their classroom. So much so that they created a race forum space for the black student population to be uplifted, allies can learn and support, and teachers further understand the trauma that comes with their bias. 


Dixon admitted to feeling like it was difficult to express herself and escape the labeling of being one of the very few black students at Masterman.  Dixon divulge to feeling discouraged by the faculty, “having more black teachers would have made me  feel free and encouraged like I can do anything” The two also attested to feeling like their white teachers underestimated them or silenced them in the classroom, behaviors like these left students questioning themselves “Like am I even smart?” said Dixon


Students at Girls High had similar concerns in the classroom. Bessie Theodore a rising junior agreed that Philadelphia public schools need more black teachers in our “With more Black teachers we probably won’t have to feel like we’re being seen as ‘thugs’ or ‘ghetto.” Philadelphia students have been calling for change nonstop and it’s up to the administration to listen


Prior to Brown v Board, America had around 82,000 black teachers. As a result of the ruling 38,000 teachers and administrators lost their positions. Losing so many teachers has had a lasting effect on what teachers look like today. The effects of the lack of racial and gender diversity are weighed heavier on black boys. Research has shown black boys having black male teachers between the 3rd and 5th grade would decrease the dropout rate by 30% which also increases the chances of them pursuing higher education.

The school district demographics are incredibly out of sync with their student enrollment, 54.2% of students are black but only 23.0% of teachers are black. According to a 2018 article by WHYY “Statewide, almost 95 percent of teachers are white and just 4 percent are black. Philadelphia alone has 42 percent of the state’s black students and 62 percent of its black teachers.”


The right teacher can touch the lives of hundreds or even thousands of students. So it's incredibly important that we make sound investments into recruiting, hiring, and retaining black teachers and teachers of color to ensure the maximum achievement of the diverse student population here in Philadelphia.