Source: Oklahoma State Department of Education
By Nehemiah Frank
In the first two months of the new 2018-19 fiscal school year, Oklahoma approved 1,237 emergency teaching certifications. Many view the state’s need to issue emergency certifications as the worst possible situation for Oklahoma students and teachers. To be frank, it is pretty sad that Oklahoma schools have to choose emergency certified teachers to fill classrooms because state legislators are, by all appearances, making shady deals with some our state’s billionaire oil executives. Yet, I still see opportunity. I like to think that our educational oil wells are half full and not half empty. I see the need of issuing emergency teaching certifications as a possible pathway to recruiting passionate educators, especially black male educators.
We all love the idea of a well-trained and thoroughly educated pedagogical workforce — that’s a given, but the reality is: The Sooner State continues to experience a mass teacher exodus. In spite of the $6,500 teacher pay raise that some state legislators fought against but were able to pass earlier this year, a mass departure of Oklahoma teachers continues and unfortunately doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon.
The consequence of nearly two decades of poor education funding mostly harms Oklahoma’s rural and inner-city students. These rural poor Whites and Native American students, along with inner city Latinx and African-African students always receive the short end of the stick when the greedy decide to clutch their pocketbooks, paying their elite lawyers and lobbyist the big buck to find the tax loopholes and to rigorously challenge any policy that would threaten to take even a meager portion of their wealth. And when the billionaires get their way, our students suffer the most. When veteran teachers leave the state as a result of the shady deal-making taking place at the state capital, the trend is: Emergency certified teachers infiltrate the rural and inner-city schools.
In inner cities, the stigmatization of working — or the social feeling of not being able to connect with or relate to students and staff members of another racial group — continues to be the barrier that has stagnated America’s racial academic achievement gap, and African-American students continue to perform lower than all other racial cohorts. However, Black children still need to be taught. Hence, when there’s a teacher shortage, it usually begins at the inner city schools with a majority black and brown student population.
Yes, it is an issue that the majority of newly emergency certified teachers are sent to the black and brown schools; however, this situation doesn’t have to be a complete debbie-downer. If we could think out of the box for just a moment, revisit our commitment to equity, and ask ourselves: How have we created better pathways to the teaching profession for black male educators?
After all, America’s black students and their black parents have asked this simple question for decades: Where are all of the black male educators?
Many of these newly emergency certified teachers receive little to no diversity training nor do they have adequate time to become acclimated with black American culture. They are, in a sense, thrown into an ocean and expected to swim and most of them are eaten alive due to their lack of cultural competence.
Many of them are ill-prepared and some are not socially accustomed nor acclimated to black culture, and many will have high rates in attendance and a hand-full will not last to the end of the school year, which is harmful to the students who need them there teaching. Moreover, emergency certified teachers find it difficult to relate to their students of color and therefore are unable to teach and reach them, which is where the actual learning occurs. And common sense will tell us: If teachers are unable to relate to their students than more than likely the student will be disinterested in what the teacher is trying to lecture, less likely to respect them, and more likely to skip class due to their own logic of wanting to avoid an awkward situation. We are failing them if we don’t take this opportunity to recruit black male role models who can step in as big brothers or even as that fatherly figure that so many young black males need.
I am proposing that we look into the possibility of this pathway; whereby, we can create highway-to-classroom training centers for black males through local community colleges — where we grant those, who show and demonstrate the care needed for our youth and have a desire to want to teach in a classroom, and while teaching with an emergency certification with an associates degree focused on education, a path to a college degree that will eventually lead to a classroom. We can get the ball rolling if we make a few minor adjustments in our local and state education policies. We can make the policies more equitable and friendly for black men who have the potential to become great educators and can demonstrate the capacity to connect with our students. We can close the achievement gap quickly with the help of more black male educators.
Nehemiah Darnell Frank was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is the founder and editor-in-chief at the Black Wall Street Times, a digital news media company. Frank is also a school administrator and fifth-grade teacher at Sankofa School of Creative and Performing Arts. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, Illinois a degree in General Studies and received a bachelor’s degree in Political Science at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Frank is a rising voice in the educational reform movement. In spring of 2018, he delivered a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa. Frank joined an Education Post as an educational blogger in the summer of 2017; Education Post is a non-profit organization that seeks to amplify the voices of educational advocates for underrepresented groups. Frank is featured in NBC, Blavity, and Tulsa People. Last September Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree and received the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award. In the summer of 2018, Frank joined the Oluko Fellowship. He is also a Black Wall Street history expert and has flown across the country to lecture on the greatness, tragedy, and resilience of his community’s beloved Greenwood, famously known as Black Wall Street.