By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — The lack of Black male educators in the nation’s second largest school district was the topic of a discussion held at Fremont High School Sept. 29 conducted by the Los Angeles Unified School District in conjunction with the College Football Playoff Foundation.
Black male educators represent only 2.1 percent of teachers working in the Los Angeles Unified School District, a statistic that has forced LAUSD officials to further examine the concerning trend and take steps to improve diversity in classrooms.
“The first step is acknowledging we have a problem, and we’ve done that,” said Tanya Ortiz-Franklin, an LAUSD school board member for District 7, which serves Watts, Wilmington and San Pedro. “Diversity and representation is important. We know more Black male educators in our schools can have a big impact on kids.”
The 90-minute panel was moderated by Jonathan Franklin, a former UCLA running back who is now director of social justice and football development for the Los Angeles Rams.
Solutions from panelists ranged from better salaries to increasing cultural awareness within LAUSD about the need for more Black male educators.
The starting salary for LAUSD teachers is $56,000. Teachers can earn up to $80,000 after 10 years, but many Black teachers, male and female, leave before reaching that pay grade.
An LAUSD study released in February tracking teacher demographics indicated that at least 100 Black educators per year had left their LAUSD positions between 2016 and 2022. The study also revealed that more than 2,000 Black students, mostly in LAUSD elementary schools, did not have a Black educator in their classroom during the same time period.
Though only 5.7% of LAUSD teachers are African-American women, the shortage of Black male educators is magnified with many young students needing Black male role models. Attracting more Black male educators has been a challenging mission for LAUSD.
“A lot of Black people don’t see themselves as part of the education system,” A. Dee Williams, a professor at Cal State Los Angeles, said during the discussion. “It’s hard to go into career spaces where you are feeling like a minority.”
Ortiz-Franklin said LAUSD is also facing obstacles from more popular career choices. Many high school youths are considering careers in information technology, business, health care and other areas. A teaching profession is low on the priority list among many high school students, particularly Black students, Ortiz-Franklin said.
“When kids don’t see Black teachers when they’re young, it’s hard to generate that interest,” Ortiz-Franklin said. “It’s very difficult to get kids to come back to a school and pursue a career in education if they had bad experiences in school. We have to make schools more of a welcome place to be.”
Panelist Irvin Davis, an economics teacher at Dorsey High School, believes the recruitment process for Black male educators should start as early as grade school, and that current Black male educators have to make a lasting impression on their students.
“As teachers, we have to make this career attractive to students and show them our joy and passion for teaching,” Davis said. “We have to show them we’re enjoying what we do.”
Ortiz-Franklin offered a glaring cultural analogy to emphasize the importance of early awareness to a potential teaching career.
“Usually, the first time a white woman heard that she can be a teacher was when she was in the third grade,” Ortiz-Franklin said. “Most Black men don’t hear about that kind of opportunity until they finish college.”
Davis suggested that LAUSD develop relationships with community organizations and historically Black colleges and universities to enhance recruiting efforts for Black male educators. Davis mentioned that California ranks fifth in the country among states sending high school students to HBCUs.
There was a consensus among the panelists that HBCU graduates can be a valuable talent pool for Black male educators if they are exposed to the teaching culture while in high school.
NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater, who attended Jackson State University, an HBCU in Jackson, Mississippi, was one of the panelists. He acknowledged the influence of Black male educators in his life.
“There were men who showed me the value of an education and kept me on the right path to get to where I am today,” said Slater, who played 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. “I admire and respect educators for the work they do.”
Ortiz-Franklin said comments from the panelists will be forwarded to LAUSD human resources personnel to assist with hiring practices. Ortiz-Franklin hopes to plan another panel discussion to coincide with this year’s NCAA Division I college football championship game to be played Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.