Black Educators Share Teachers’ Concerns and Hopes

Delores McCollum, a 31-year retired teacher from Ohio with Jemal Graham, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and 6-year teacher.  Before becoming a math teacher, Mr. Graham worked in finance and real estate development.

Delores McCollum, a 31-year retired teacher from Ohio with Jemal Graham, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and 6-year teacher. Before becoming a math teacher, Mr. Graham worked in finance and real estate development.

Thousands of teachers, administrators, coaches, guidance counselors, and parents descended on the Fort Worth, Texas Convention Center November 17-20 for the 38th Annual Conference of the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE).  Designed to bring together educators and parents of the African Diaspora from across the nation and the world, attendees traveled from as far as Nova Scotia, Canada and West Africa. 

On Saturday, November 20, the US Department of Education hosted a teacher roundtable to hear directly from educators their views about the nation’s education system and ED policy.  Though the roundtable included teachers from a diversity of experiences, content areas, and regions, several shared themes became quickly apparent. 

Ending High-Stakes Testing.  One interesting observation made by several veteran educators was that the overwhelming emphasis on test scores in the past decade has eroded the tendency for many teachers to share best practices and serve as the informal mentors that so many new teachers desperately need.  Instead, teachers find themselves in competition with each other over whose test scores will be better.  They expressed hope and optimism that the new focus on growth in President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform will rekindle the spirit of cooperation that has been lost over the last decade.  When teachers can focus on making sure that every child is moving in the right direction rather than worrying about whether their students are outperforming the students in the classroom next door, we will have a system that fosters growth and development for teachers and, most importantly, for students, they said. 

Developing Authentic Teacher Evaluations.  Another common thread from the roundtable discussions was the need for effective systems of evaluation.  Though it may be surprising to some, teachers in the room actually expressed a desire for more methods of evaluation, not less.  A twenty-seven-year veteran of the classroom recalled that during her tenure, “A lot of my colleagues said, ‘… you ought to be glad [that no one has come to observe you in a long time]’ and I thought, no – I’m not glad because I’m not perfect and I need to see [things] from somebody else’s perspective…”

It was extremely evident throughout the roundtable discussion that true professional educators who care about improving their craft and student outcomes are hungry for evaluation systems that consist of more than mere checklists, which result in an “S” or  “U.” 

Speaking as a New York teacher, this is perhaps the most critical facet in the current push for education reform.  Far too many of the “bad” teachers that are maligned in the media are simply caring and dedicated individuals who need proper guidance to improve.  States must develop evaluation systems that give teachers the feedback necessary to make teachers better.  The President’s Blueprint includes plans for developing and supporting teachers, and I am hopeful that Congress will include them in plans to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Childhood Education Act.

Jemal H. Graham
Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow
Jemal Graham teaches math in Brooklyn, NY.


  1. I developed a program years ago when I was in a school where minority student’s performance was marginal. So, I developed a program called, “networking students of color for success.” This set off a fire storm. Not because it did not work but it was because it was so successful students became involved in every aspect of the school programs, raised their grades and took ownership for their success. The attitude was a fear that they would take over from teachers, administrator,etc.
    I fought regardless of the attitude. I am retired but still work with students.
    I would like to see a think tank established among(African American Educator) retirees, business, community and to develop a blue print.
    Our nation has deliberately allowed a two class system of education. It had not intent too educate all students.

  2. This article was so refreshing. I conduct weekly professional development at a high school in Baltimore and I think this article does a great job of articulating the challenges of education reform and highlighting the concerns of African American educators. I hope we continue to see more of this in light of the new policies and practices in education.

  3. The problem is not that issues are not student-centered. It is the fact the problems and solutions are not community-centered. Most non-educators have such an unrealitic view of the classroom and what it takes to be a successful student of the present and future. They are not able to make educated observations or comments about education. As long as one group(parents, educators, politicians) makes choices for how our children will be educated the current and future system are DOOMED. Everyone must make that voice heard for the success of our children.

  4. Mr. Graham,

    Read your article, ‘Black Educators Share Teachers’ Concerns and Hopes’. Thank you.

    You are a young man. I am a product of America’s public schools, an afro-american man and closer in age to Ms McCollum, emetrius.

    Yes, every child should move in the right direction. To make this happen, children must be aware of how the ethnic white came to power, why whites used that power to enslave/colonize other races, and why WWI and WWII are were actually just infighting between whites over the spoils from their very successful colonial wars.

    Children must be aware of the reasons why credit for signifigant technological acheviements is restricted to whites and why blacks are channelled into being court-jesters, creeps or an insignifigant existance.

    Children must be aware that blacks continue to be terrorized and murdered for attaining or trying to attain a good life for their families or working-knowledge of anything constructive.

    Failure for children and their elders to know the truth about the world they live in, will result in a further acceptance of themselves as sub-human to white people.

  5. This concerns me. These themes seem teacher-centerd,not student-centered. When we lose sight of the students, we get this Education thing all wrong…

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