ISTELive, Abbott Elementary, and a push for Black educator representation

By Laura Ascione for eSchoolNews
June 27, 2023

During the opening ISTELive 23 keynote, panelists discussed the urgent need for minority students to see themselves represented in their teachers.

Key points:

  • Black male teachers are desperately needed in U.S. schools
  • Getting more Black teachers–and Black male teachers–means suggesting education career paths early on and understanding students’ cultural experiences
  • See related article: 5 ways the homework gap is worse for students of color

Representation matters, and when students have educators who look like them, it does wonders for their learning experience. At ISTELive 23’s opening mainstage event, featured speakers sat down for a chat about the challenges around representation and getting more Black educators—particularly Black male educators—into classrooms.

Director of ISTE Certification Carmalita Seitz sat down with Joyce Abbott, the inspiration behind Abbott Elementary’s name and a recently retired educator; Tyler James Williams, 2023 Golden Globe winner for best supporting actor as teacher Gregory Eddie on Abbott Elementary; and Sharif El-Mekki, CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development to discuss just how much representation matters for students and teachers.

“Immediately after we wrapped Season 1, we had an overwhelming respect for what educators do and felt a need to advocate for educators,” Williams said. This advocacy is especially critical for Black teachers and Black male teachers in particular, he added. If Abbot Elementary can represent Black educators and give educators a stress-relieving laugh that buoys them as they go back to their classrooms the next day, that’s a win.

“We need Black teachers. Back in the 1800s, in this city, Caroline LeCount said we need more Black educators for Black children,” El-Mekki said. “About 1.3 percent of our teachers are Black men in this country. Invite them into the profession. Continue inviting them into the profession. Many young Black youth say they were never invited into the profession. When you see them doing great things, like great leadership, tell them, “That’s what the best teachers do,” and help them connect the dots. Help them shape the narrative of what dope teaching looks like.”

Laura Ascione is the Editorial Director at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

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