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Are faculty prepared to effectively teach and support black male students in the college classroom?

Updated on February 1, 2016
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Your institution has intentionally recruited first generation, Black male students and has set up campus-wide supports to encourage their success. They have organized Black male initiatives that provide mentoring, encourage brotherhood, and emphasize service to the community. But, college success isn’t dependent on who attends a welcome luncheon, joins a student group or poses for a picture for a community service project. College success, or failure, is the product of what occurs in the classroom.

Community colleges are attracting the bulk of Black male college students to their campuses and the classroom is where students spend the majority of their on-campus time. The classroom experience is often what drives students’ decisions about their feelings about higher education, their beliefs about their abilities to succeed as well as their motivation to persist. Because class time is often the most impactful experience for the community college student, it is essential to the success of first generation, Black male students.

With 79% of college faculty at degree granting institutions being White and over 70% of Black male students choosing to attend community colleges, the question begs to be asked, ‘Are faculty ready and prepared to welcome, instruct, engage and support Black male students in the college classroom?’

Faculty education

It is crucial faculty are educated and trained how to encourage the success of first generation, Black male students. Additionally, faculty need to be aware of, and explore, their own preconceptions, misunderstandings or stereo-types of Black men and think about how they can inform and reshape their conceptions.

Culture and media often present Black males in a tough, street-savvy, and sometimes threatening light. Faculty might carry these notions with them into the classroom believing Black male college students don’t need direction, motivation, encouragement and kindness but nothing is further from the truth. Black students, especially first generation Black male students, are often unsure, hesitant and wondering if they are college material and need classroom experiences that provide direction, praise, encouragement and inspiration that allows them to see and utilize their potential.

In order for Black male students to be successfully taught and supported faculty have to want to engage with them. Instructors have to intentionally and sincerely care about their success and show it.

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Faculty sometimes mistakenly believe they are neutral and are not doing anything to neither encourage nor deter Black students from success or failure. That kind of apathetic approach is, in and of itself, an action and an often unintentional way of ensuring student failure. Faculty have to be actively willing to demonstrate care and encourage student success.

Here are some things faculty need to be aware of to be effective and supportive instructors of Black male students:

The crown jewel

Student-faculty relationships are the crown jewel in fostering student success among Black male students. It is imperative relationships are built beginning the first day of class and are nurtured throughout the semester. The sooner students feel a connection to faculty the more likely they are to attend class, participate, cooperate, exert more effort with course work and persistent to the semester’s end. Black male students are also more likely to commit their time and energy to coursework if they believe instructors authentically care about them as students and as people.

Previous educational experiences

Historically, Black men have often had unpleasant or unfavorable educational experiences in k-12 systems often being taught by educators outside their race who are frequently disconnected and uniformed about Black culture and how to teach and connect with Black students. Because of these past experiences Black male college students might anticipate similar experiences in higher education. Those expectations might cause students to hesitate to sit near the front of the class, engage with the instructor who is often seen as an authority figure, or risk openly participating in class discussions. It is important faculty are aware of previous educational experiences of Black men, consider how the residue of those experiences impact student success and work to create a more positive classroom experience.

The first day

The first day of the semester faculty can begin creating positive classroom experiences by greeting students and welcoming them into their classes, shaking students’ hands and saying, “I’m glad you’re here” or “Welcome to English 101.” What might seem like a small effort can make a big difference in making that first connection and getting the semester off to a good start.

The power of names

Faculty can also demonstrate care and a desire to know students as people by taking time to know their names and using them in the classroom. Knowing and using students’ names is a powerful piece of relationship building. It lets students know they are valued and important enough to be remembered. Using names creates a sense of familiarity and belongingness.Here are some easy ways faculty can use to remember students’ names:

  • Use the name as quickly as possible. An instructor might say, “You’re Deontaye, right?” or “Welcome, Michael!”
  • Try and attach the name to a physical reminder. For example, an instructor might think Greg wears glasses or Roderick likes to wear the color red.
  • Use name tents the first few weeks until names are committed to memory.

Know the students

Faculty can also develop relationships by getting to know about the students’ lives. Instructors can consider having students write brief letters to the instructor at the beginning of the term that includes students’ goals, programs of study and outside commitments including job and family responsibilities. Once faculty are familiar with the lives of their students they can inquire about their progress, challenges and successes. Additionally, faculty can weave references to students’ goals or interests openly in the classroom. An instructor might say, “There’s a speaker on campus this afternoon who will be discussing social media marketing strategies. Michael and Jamal I know you are interested in business strategies, you might want to check it out.” These types of statements make it clear faculty care and have taken the time to get to know their students.

Deliberately motivate

It’s necessary for faculty to deliberately and consistently provide motivation. Students need to be reminded of the progress they’re making by choosing to stay in school. Faculty can also acknowledge students’ solid attendance, preparedness and attention to their studies. Equally important faculty should also not avoid approaching students if they need a reminder to get back on track.

To help motivate students instructors can offer continuous and explicit reminders about the value of education and frequently use resources such as written messages and verbal prompts, guest speakers, or inspirational videos to motivate students to persist.

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Not in the classroom

Nothing will turn students away from the college classroom faster than faculty who use tactics such as sarcasm, embarrassment or shame (calling students out) as a means to bring about change in students’ behavior. There is no place for this type of degradation in any classroom. Students are adults and deserve to be treated with the same respect any other adult or colleague would be treated. Black male students, along with other marginalized student populations, are often in a fragile, uncertain state during their first and second years of college. Although often filled with optimism, they are unsure about their own abilities to succeed and are often skeptical about the reality of a payoff of a degree that seems out of reach. Students are often, literally, one negative event from walking out of the classroom door. An instructor’s sharp response about arriving late to class, sarcastic inquisition about not handing in an assignment or an off-handed comment about a student not being able to acquire their books or materials for the course might be just enough to confirm feelings they don't belong and cause students to rethink their commitment to higher education.

The success of Black men in college is heavily reliant on the classroom experience. It is vital faculty are educated and prepared to engage and support Black men in the college classroom.

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