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#WeNeedBlackTeachers – Q&A with Darryl Bundrige, City Year Philly Executive Director

In September 2021, the Center for Black Educator Development, a frequent City Year Philly collaborator, launched a new campaign called We Need Black Teachers. The campaign elevates the need for more Black teachers across the country. Research shows that Black students who have Black teachers have better outcomes, including increased high school graduation and college entry rates.

Although 15% of U.S. public school students identify as Black, Black teachers account for just 7% of public school teachers. As emphasized on the We Need Black Teachers website:

“Black students have told us they feel more engaged in the classroom with their Black teachers, that it feels safer being taught by someone who can empathize with the reality of being Black in the U.S., and that Black teachers are just more likely to be real with them. We’ve seen the proven impact that Black teachers have on student learning. Our youth, especially Black youth, need Black teachers.”

In support of this campaign, we spoke with Darryl Bundrige, CYP Executive Director, about the impact of Black teachers in his life and how our AmeriCorps members can be part of the solution. Read his insights below:

 

Can you remember a Black teacher (or teachers) who made an impact on your life? Please tell those stories and describe the unique ways they pushed for change and made an impact.

In the mid-70s through the late 80s, I was a Black boy growing up in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. And I loved school. My parents sacrificed and endured to be one of the first Black families to buy a home on our block, for better school choice and a safer environment in which to grow.

Through my K-12 learning, I learned from many teachers who were nice and supportive, but they didn’t look like me. They didn’t know or understand what it was like to be a young Black male growing up in these times. They couldn’t relate or advise in this space. And as I neared high school graduation and pondered college to become a teacher, they told me not to do so and said, “The kids are becoming more difficult to teach, and the policies and processes are too overwhelming.”

But I was fortunate to experience three Black educators who understood and supported me—one without even knowing it—in my full identity as a Black male. They were guidance counselor Bill Polk, typing teacher (it was the 80s) Michael Gibson, and speech/drama teacher Cynthia Griffith.

Mr. Polk
I was earning positive grades in elementary school when I met Mr. Polk in 6th grade. Mr. Polk was a calm, kind, positive Black man. We met, and he asked me a series of questions. He then contacted my parents and asked permission to test me for the school district’s gifted program. The results came back and indicated I had met the IQ requirements and should have entered the program back in 2nd grade.
Only one other Black student was in the gifted program, through my entire K-12 experience.

Mr. Gibson
Mr. Gibson gave all of us students a great deal of latitude, but still commanded respect. Black students came to him for advice, as he was always up on young Black culture. From a typing teacher, Mr. Gibson went on to become a guidance counselor and impact even larger cohorts of students.

Ms. Griffith
Ms. Griffith was not actually my teacher, but her students loved her. She moved through the halls with grace and style (she’d been a model) and was friendly and approachable. I heard how Ms. Griffith helped students to develop, especially her Black students. I so admired her talent that, amid budget cuts, I testified in front of the school board to save her position.

 

These three individuals remind me of the power of representation and bringing perspective, cultural competence, and advocacy to spaces where they are lacking; the power of seeing and connecting with people who look like you and have shared experiences for listening and mentoring; and the power of modeling career options.

Who knows? With more time and exposure with these three Black educators, I may have been a school principal or district superintendent now. We’ll never know for me, but we can make that future happen for our youth today.

Let’s remove the barriers for Black youth who want to become teachers as well as leaders in educational justice.

 

How did those teachers influence your education, career path and your current ED role with CYP?

I didn’t think about the value and importance of the presence of Black teachers when I was a student. Since then, I’ve served and worked in communities of predominantly Black and Brown children, and I’ve noticed what a difference it makes for those students to have teachers who look like them and can understand their experiences growing up. That’s a perspective that not even our most well-intentioned white teachers could know or understand. In my role now, I’m mindful of the need for us to continue to put as many positive Black and Brown mentors and tutors as AmeriCorps members in front of our students.

 

What do you see as CYP’s role in supporting the development of Black educators?

I think that it’s layered. In terms of Black educators at our partner schools, our AmeriCorps members and staff have the obligation to build rapport and understanding with them, and to work to align around a common set of goals for working with and uplifting students. Our Impact Managers and AmeriCorps members have a responsibility to respectfully call out instances when they witness disrespect or microaggressions against Black educators.

Our AmeriCorps members also have the responsibility of encouraging others and themselves to reflect on the value of their continuing to fill those roles as educators. For our Black AmeriCorps members, “How can I leverage this experience and continue to bring value to our young people by stepping into a teacher’s role?” For non-Black AmeriCorps members, “How can I be supportive of my Black colleagues in furthering their experience to enter the classroom?”

 

Why do you think it’s important to increase the number of Black educators? And do you have words of encouragement for CYP AmeriCorps members to support or get involved with teaching activist organizations like the Center for Black Educator Development and their #WeNeedBlackTeachers initiative?

For one, we need more teachers in general. The number of new teachers is going down, retirements are going up, and there is a perspective that the field is underpaid, overworked and disrespected relative to the value they bring to our society. At the same time, the demographics of our country are changing, and there are more Black and Brown young people who will make up the future populations and future leaders in all industries. The need for them to be inspired, mentored, and taught by people who look like them is much more critical.

With our AmeriCorps members, we have seen time and time again that when they go into teaching spaces, they are much more likely to be successful because they’ve spent the time in that community, in that school building, in those classrooms developing rapport with students. They know the challenges as well as the resilience and talents of our students, and they are intentionally opting to go into those spaces and help cultivate and uplift students. And I think that is one of the greatest determinants of teacher success. We need people who have that understanding, that confidence and that cultural competency to be the ones filling classrooms.

To our AmeriCorps members, I would say please not only think about the value that you are bringing to students and classrooms this year, but think about how you can do that beyond. We need those perspectives in all spaces of the educational realm: teachers, guidance counselors, school therapists, nurses, principals. I encourage our AmeriCorps members to utilize opportunities like the Center for Black Educator Development to explore resources and supports that will set them up for success in the teaching space, so that they don’t feel as isolated or overwhelmed as the Black teachers and guidance counselor that I had experienced in my own K-12 education.

 

City Year Philly is currently accepting applications for our mid-year term of service! This full-time role begins in December and continues through the end of the school year in June. Apply by November 15.

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