By Emmanuel Ishola and Samuel Yeboah-Manson, 2023 Governor's STEM Scholars
As two black males with dreams of entering the STEM fields and revolutionizing the fields of biology and aerospace engineering, we believe it is critical to see ourselves represented in the professional contexts in which we want to excel. Yet between us, we have only had one Black science teacher.
Having role models of color among instructors is very crucial for black students considering careers in STEM fields, hence the alarmingly low number of black educators in these subjects is particularly concerning.
The already low number of Black educators has continued to decline as the COVID epidemic has compounded the teacher shortage. Despite the enormous advancements in STEM fields, only nine percent of STEM educators are Black.
According to the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning, there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the low percentage of Black science instructors and the number of Black students pursuing STEM careers. Solving this problem requires more Black graduates from STEM disciplines to join the teaching profession, where they may empower black students to be able to look up to a role model in a related profession.
The lack of diverse teachers—especially Black science teachers—in the teaching workforce denies students of broad perspectives from educators who have unique life experiences. According to an article published by the Drexel University School of Education, “When working and learning with people from various backgrounds and cultures in the classroom, students gain a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.”
A more diversified STEM teacher pool may inspire Black students to persevere through the challenging curriculum to become STEM professionals. According to experts, “One possibility is that there may be role-model benefits, so having a Black teacher in front of the class, being a subject-matter expert, might act as a role model and increase children’s long-term aspirations for themselves.” The American Economic Journal found that black students who were exposed to Black teachers by third grade were 13 percent more likely to enroll in college.
There is a disproportionate amount of Black teachers for the number of Black students in public schools in New Jersey. New Jersey is incredibly diverse with nearly 60 percent of its student population identifying as students of color yet, only 17 percent of its teachers identify as Black, Hispanic, or Asian.
Research shows teachers of color are linked to social-emotional and academic gains for students of all races — but especially students of color, because teachers of color help close achievement gaps, serve as role models, take a restorative rather than punitive approach to discipline, and increase the graduation and college enrollment rates.
In order to address this problem, we encourage Black graduates to consider entering the teaching field or obtaining a teaching certification, a process which should be made significantly more accessible by the New Jersey Department of Education which offers programs to assist black educators train and pay off any student loans that would deter them from teaching. They will serve as a role model for other kids who may not otherwise see themselves reflected in the STEM workforce because of their race.
March is New Jersey STEM Month, a time to celebrate and honor the achievements in STEM in the state. It is also a time when we must reflect on our STEM education and chart a path forward to ensure STEM education that meets the needs of our diverse population. Let’s use this time to collectively raise awareness of the lack of diverse STEM educators, speaking to our fellow students, teachers, and school boards to ensure the next generation of STEM students can learn and engage with teachers who share their perspectives and experiences.
Emmanuel Ishola is a senior at Essex County Newark Tech School Of Technology. He aspires to enter the field of aerospace engineering, astrophysics, and political science and in the future create an aerospace company built around minority engineers. Samuel Yeboah-Manson is a senior at South Brunswick High School. He aspires to study public health and biology in college and hopes to work as a doctor in the future. He hopes to provide accessible and affordable healthcare to disadvantaged populations.