I am often asked whether white female teachers can effectively teach black students. The question is too complex for a simple yes or no answer. A credible answer must be based on research and studies, not anecdotes, and personal opinions. That in mind, here is my answer.
Many white female teachers do a commendable job each year in the trenches teaching black children. Some of those black students bring a box load of personal issues to the classroom making it difficult for any teacher. Yet, these white teachers put their hearts and souls in educating these children. They successfully teach black students because they have the qualities that all good teachers possess, i.e., they are highly qualified, have high expectations for all students, etc. Hence, the fact that these teachers are white females is irrelevant. We salute those teachers.
On a personal note, the teacher who had the most impact on me was my sixth grade shop teacher. His name is Arnold Caison and he is white. I give Mr. Caison this distinction in my life because he told me repeatedly that I was smart and could be anything I wanted, although I was his worse behaving student. In fact, Mr. Caison spoke so highly and often of my intelligence, I believed him. I literally started thinking I was smart enough to be anything I desired. I owe him the confidence I have in my intelligence. I left his classroom believing I could be a doctor, lawyer, scientist or whatever.
On the other hand, studies show that a cultural disconnect often exists between many white teachers and black students and parents, which makes it very difficult for learning to occur. Even worse, some white female teachers exhibit indifference, hostility, or fear toward black children, especially black boys. Then finally, some white teachers are just plain racists though I believe that number is small and decreasing.
Moreover, studies across the nation show that white educators often perceive behavior unique to black youth, such as “provocative walking styles, rapping, use of slang, expressive hairstyles, excessive use of jewelry, wearing hats (and wearing hats backwards), wearing the belt unbuckled, untied sneakers, and so on, as arrogant, rude, defiant, aggressive, intimidating, threatening, and in general, behaviors not conducive to learning.” Of course, white educators reach those conclusions by comparing black youth culture to their own culture. However, they fail to realize that not every loud black male who wears sneakers and a do-rag is a thug. In fact, most are not.
The cultural disconnect, indifference or racism exhibited by many white teachers toward black students contribute significantly to the achievement gap and to the disproportionate percentage of black boys who are suspended, expelled, who are placed in special education, or who dropout. However, just placing black students in classrooms with black teachers is not necessarily the answer. In most instances, a teacher’s race is irrelevant. Good and bad teachers come in all races. It’s the love, concern, expectations, qualifications, and other qualities of a teacher that counts much more than her race. Yet, common sense tells us that it is important to find ways to recruit and retain young, highly qualified black teachers, especially black male teachers, to help reach some of the young black boys failing in public schools.