Phillip Burns jokingly banters with his students as they leave his music class on Wednesday afternoon, but when it counts, the students know who is boss.
“Do not leave that book on the stand, get that book and put it up,” he tells a student, who quickly complies.
“You have to straddle that line between being a friend and being an authority figure,” he explains later. “That’s not always easy, as each class has its own personality.”
Burns is one of a vanishing breed – black male teachers. The number of black male teachers has declined in recent decades. According to the Journal of African American Males in Education, the number of black males in education has dropped by 66 percent since 1954. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Education says only about 2 percent of the nation’s teachers are black men. About 35 percent of students in U.S. public schools are black or Hispanic.
Black male educators in the Dothan City Schools said a number of factors may be influencing the drop in black male teachers.
Burns, a Girard Middle School teacher, said black males may get turned off to careers in education because of poor relationships with educators in K-12. Burns said teachers can often struggle to have positive relationships with their black male students.
Scott Faulk, principal of Honeysuckle Middle School, said salaries may turn professional black males off to careers in education. Faulk said higher pay could help recruit more black males to the field.
Charles Corbett, principal of Girard Middle School, said small cities and rural areas particularly struggle to recruit minority teachers, as many minorities who become teachers choose to take jobs in larger cities.
Faulk said having black male teachers is important to education. He said having black men in positions of authority at school gives black male students a positive male role model. Faulk recalls that his business teacher in high school, who was black, had a positive impact on him.
“He wore a suit everyday,” Faulk said. “That was impressive.”
Burns said black male teachers also help dispel negative stereotypes other students may have about black males.
The Department of Education is trying to recruit more black males to become teachers. The department recently launched an initiative to recruit 80,000 new black male teachers by 2015.