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Making the case for more men of color in early education

ROYSTON MAXWELL LYTTLE | 11/13/2017, 6:43 p.m.

Trice Edney Communications

As educators, we have an obligation to give our students every opportunity to succeed. Parents rely on us to ensure their children are armed with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive once they leave our classrooms.

Over my more than 15 years in education, I have learned that to fulfill this responsibility, schools must give children the opportunity to learn from men of color. The profound impact Black male educators can have on the trajectory of a child’s life cannot be overstated. And it’s time we acknowledge it.

Promoting diversity

Less than 2 percent of our nation’s teachers are Black males, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

At a time when non-White students outnumber White students in U.S. public schools, the need for a diverse teaching force has never been greater. At Eagle Academy Public Charter School, diversity is something we not only celebrate, but aggressively pursue.

We constantly look for ways to expose our students to different experiences, perspectives and methods for coping with challenges. And this starts with diverse educators.

It should come as no surprise that men and women bring different perspectives to the classroom, and the same is true for individuals of varying backgrounds and ethnicities. Especially in early education where children develop the foundation for the rest of their lives, it is crucial that schools cultivate a diverse and stable environment to facilitate this development.

I have seen firsthand that when children learn and grow in a diverse community, they begin to challenge stereotypes that have for far too long prevented children from reaching their full potential.

Shattering the stereotypes

Today, early childhood education is still widely viewed as a woman’s profession.

With men representing only 2.5 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers and 21.5 percent of elementary and middle school teachers, the chances of having a male educator (let alone a Black male educator) before reaching high school are slim.

I am the principal for grades 1-3 of the Eagle Academy Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. I strongly believe that all students should be provided a high-quality education and that all students can reach their full academic potential regardless of their social or economic background.

The environment children are exposed to in their first years of education has a profound impact on how they view the world. Therefore, there should be a sense of urgency among early educators to combat stereotypes.

When children see a diverse teaching staff working together in the same profession, they not only learn the importance of equality, but are also encouraged to ignore gender and racial stereotypes associated with certain careers. As a Black man working in early education, I have seen how these societal constructs negatively affect children and have dedicated my life to breaking them down.

Offering a role model

Role models play a critical role in a child’s development.

Young boys who come from disadvantaged backgrounds may not have a strong father figure at home, and often come to school hoping to fill that void. As a leader of a 98 percent African American student body, I feel it is important for students to find someone they can see themselves in, look up to and aspire to be.