St. Louis-area duo aims to get more young blacks to teach
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Two St. Louis-area black educators have formed a support group to inspire more black students to go into teaching and to give them a place to network with one another.
Darryl Diggs, a 37-year-old assistant principle at Parkway South High School, co-founded Black Males in Education-St. Louis in 2019 along with Howard Fields, the principal at Givens Elementary in Webster Groves.
The men created the organization for other black people, particularly males, to feel secure in their professional roles in urban or suburban schools.
The group on Friday hosted the State of Black Educators Symposium at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. About 1,300 people signed up.
One of the scheduled speakers was Kelvin Adams, superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools, where 8% of teachers are black men. Nationwide, black men make up just 2% of public school teachers.
Recruiting teachers of color is among the top priorities for the St. Louis district, where 79% of students are black compared with 37% of educators, Adams said. Graduates of historically black colleges and universities are less likely to enter the teaching field than before, he noted.
“It’s a real challenge,” said Adams, adding that the district is establishing teacher pipeline programs for the city’s high schools.
The racial disparity between students and teachers in many of the St. Louis County school districts is a form of educational malpractice, Diggs added.
While black students have fewer black teachers to look up to as role models, teachers also can feel secluded and vulnerable without black mentors in their schools.
Fields and Diggs said that the shortage of black men in education can be partly attributed to their negative experiences as students. Black boys in school are disciplined at higher rates than other groups. Diggs said the attitude among some teachers toward black boys is, “you’re either an athlete or you’re not, and if you’re not, good luck.”
Diggs said he recently felt the isolation of being one of the few black educators in school when a picture of him, labeled with a racial slur, circulated among students on social media. Some racist comments on the photo even came from students he mentored, Diggs noted, adding that he felt overburdened by the implications.
“At some point, that thick skin gets heavy,” he said.