Celebrating African American Teachers in the Classroom

Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Education hosted a Google+ Hangout—“Celebrating African American Teachers in the Classroom”—at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The panel, moderated by NBC News’ Tamron Hall, comprised of African American educators from across the country, discussed the rewards of the teaching profession, the critical role of good teachers, and the challenges they face in preparing students for college and careers.

The panel consisted of the Department’s Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement; David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans; Jemal Graham, a 7th-grade math teacher at Eagle Academy for Young Men in Queens, N.Y.; Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, Howard University, Department of Education and Wesley Baker, a middle-school social studies teacher at KIPP Truth Academy in Dallas, Texas.

The discussion was the first of several events to be hosted by the Department to celebrate the country’s more than five million teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10).

Each teacher brought a passion and wealth of knowledge to the discussion that reminds all of us of the important role that educators play in our lives.  From one topic to the next, each gave heartfelt feedback of what was working and what they found most challenging.  What struck me the most, was that regardless of their location or district each teacher was able to find common ground with the other.  This was not just a calling for them, this was their profession and they studied it and practiced it the same way a lawyer prepares for a case – with diligence and unwavering attention. The panel discussion was a rare opportunity for a diverse assembly of educators to come together to exchange their ideas.

Secretary Duncan and President Obama have recognized the need for a more diverse teaching force.  Nationwide, more than 35 percent of public school students are African American or Hispanic, but less than 15 percent of teachers are Black or Latino, and less than 2 percent of our nation’s teachers are African American males. Early in Duncan’s term as Secretary of Education, he made the call for more African American men to pick up the chalk and teach. Read more about the Teach.gov initiative (now Teach.org).

Watch yesterday’s Google+ Hangout:

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Cameron French is deputy press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education