Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

As children returned to their classrooms Aug. 17, North Charleston High School principal Henry Darby urged men to be more involved in the lives of students as positive male role models.

He went a step further and called for them to meet at the school to hear his message that mothers have long been active in students’ lives — and that it’s time for fathers to do more.

Darby said he was pleased 30 men attended the Aug. 16 meeting, the most he has seen during the first week of school since he was named principal in 2017. The men were also pleased with the response. They’d like to meet monthly. The men represented the school’s diverse enrollment of mostly Black students along with Latinos and Whites.

Darby is right that men need to be present in schools. That’s why I went to a different school this week with my 6-year-old grandson. He entered the first grade at a Charleston County school. I was excited for him while being nervous at how he’d be accepted by his new teacher.

When Darby called for men to be more involved in students’ lives, he didn’t single out Black men. However, I am keenly concerned that my grandson is in a public school system where Black boys experience higher rates of implicit bias in the classroom which means White teachers may tend to call on White children more or because of stereotypes,White teachers also may suspect Black children are more violent. 

Black students, who are one-third of the enrollment in Charleston County, are suspended at nearly 10 times the rate of White students, according to data compiled by the Charleston Area Justice Ministries (CAJM). Black students are also arrested eight times more often as compared to White students, CAJM said.

I wanted to attend a meet-the-teacher session at my grandson’s school to see his classroom and quietly present myself as that positive and loving male figure in his life. He is an energetic boy with a big imagination who is prone to typical 6-year-old behaviors. Unfortunately, typical 6-year-old behaviors in Black boys may get them in trouble more often than their White peers. 

White teachers often feel threatened by Black boys and girls who often are loud and communal. This is true regardless of the race of the teacher. However, teachers who aren’t connected to the culture of the students they serve often have a different interpretation of the students’ behaviors. 

Last summer, the district reported that of its 3,500 teachers, 83% were White, 14.6% were Black and 1.5% were Hispanic. Most of the district’s teachers are women. As a result, the chances are slim that a Black or Hispanic student will have a male teacher who looks like them. That’s a statistic that Darby understands.

I also wanted to learn more about the expectations of my grandson’s teacher and to let her know his family members are partners in his care and education. For this meet-and-greet, my grandson’s White teacher had strung white lights around the dimly-lit classroom accented with pink and blue colors to create a soothing atmosphere. She invited my grandson to explore the room. She pointed out the library along a wall and a yoga nook where students can sit to be calm. One encouraging display was a mental health check list where students would place a heart next to how they’re feeling that day. The choices include “I am great.” “I am okay.” Or “I am struggling.”

Around the classroom are exercises to encourage good behavior. The teacher wants the 15 students in her class to be responsible, but if they make the wrong choice they aren’t necessarily punished. Instead, they are given a chance to reflect on what they did and how they can fix it.

Good behavior and encouraging words are rewarded with points that can be deemed for special activities. The room has opportunities for interactive learning that stimulates a student’s imagination. There is also time to stop, to dance and to sing, acknowledging that children need to move to learn.

The third-year teacher said the room is designed based on her philosophy to make students feel like a family of kind and caring people. She said in this environment students can thrive.

I applaud her for staying in a profession where there is a shortage of teachers. I like her, too, because her message of kindness might start to turn around the trend of kids bullying one another.

Only time will tell, however, if Papa can stop being skeptical of young White female teachers with young Black male students.

Longtime South Carolina journalist Herb Frazier  is the City Paper’s senior projects editor.  Have a comment? Send to: feedback@charlestoncitypaper.com.


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