When thousands of North Carolina teachers rally on the grounds of the state legislative building on May 1 for what the North Carolina Association of Educators is calling a Day of Action, one of whom I consider the state’s best will be missing.
Not because he doesn’t believe in the cause, but Mr. Allen Boyd has left the classroom.
He was my youngest daughter’s sixth-grade social studies teacher. And although I’m much older, I still refer to him as “Mr. Boyd.”
My daughter and I ran into him recently in Food Lion. We stopped and chatted and after catching up, he said he’d left teaching. I gave it 15 years, he said, then he realized he wanted to start a family and he didn’t want to spend all day helping somebody else’s child and come home with nothing to give to his own.
Standing there in the ethnic food section of Aisle 1, I was on the verge of tears. I wanted to shed happy tears for him, but I also wanted to mourn the loss of an excellent educator. One who not only teaches the subject matter, but who imparts lifelong lessons.
My youngest daughter, who is now a budget analyst for the USDA, is a logical thinker who likes order. She makes lists — lots of them. She devises plans and processes. She even color-codes her tax information, and when she moved, every box was coded to reflect the room where the contents belonged.
She came home after a week or so in sixth grade complaining about Mr. Boyd. He, she said, was not following the book. Other social studies students with other teachers were further ahead and Mr. Boyd was instead skipping all over the book. Additionally, Mr. Boyd required outside reading. He wanted them to use the library for supplemental texts. He wanted them to do individual research, read newspapers and other periodicals and to think and extrapolate and form an opinion.
Once I heard her complaint, I knew she had just the teacher she needed for such a time as this.
After realizing that Momma did not share her concerns, she actually started enjoying the class. By midterm, my math whiz was enjoying social studies and credited her embrace of this abstract subject matter to Mr. Boyd. Years later, when asked to write a college essay on the person who had the most influence on her, yep, she wrote about Mr. Boyd.
We shared that with him as we stood talking that afternoon. My daughter also told him that he had helped her learn to embrace being unapologetically black — learning to love being a black woman without having to feel shame or guilt or apologize. And in a country where minorities have been taught that what is white is the norm, learning to love yourself, without hating what is white, is confusing to many.
I sensed he had mixed emotions as we talked. Perhaps he didn’t know the impact he made.
Mr. Boyd and thousands of other minority teachers are opting out of the classroom every day. Consider these facts:
- One-third of our public schools are racial or ethnic minorities, but only 14% of the teachers are. That means that 40% of U.S. schools have zero, zip, nada minority teachers.
- While the country has lost teachers overall, minorities, especially African-Americans, experienced the greatest loss.
- African American teachers often work in schools with a higher proportion of low-performing students, have poorer school support, are located in lower socioeconomic communities and tend to have weaker principals, less effective mentoring and lower-quality professional development.
All this, while research shows that African American student performance increases, dropout rates decrease and college enrollment increases if a student has an African American teacher. So, there is no doubt that student success depends on whether or not they’ve had an African American teacher. This data also notes that non-African-American students report having positive perceptions of African American teachers and they feel cared for and academically challenged in such classrooms.
North Carolina, like most other states, is suffering with the loss of African American teachers, but that’s not one of the issues that is drawing teachers to Raleigh later this week.
Instead, they are marching for more librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses and other health professionals. They are marching for a $15 minimum wage for all school workers, a 5% raise for all school employees and a 5% cost-of-living adjustment for retirees. They are marching for Medicaid expansion for all. They are marching to reinstate retiree benefits for all teachers hired after 2021, and they are marching to restore extra pay for teachers with advanced degrees. All noble causes.
But who’s marching to replace Mr. Boyd and African American teachers like him?
Recently, one of the young ladies from my church was named Teacher of the Year at Cone Elementary School, where she teaches first grade. Mariah Allen, who also had Mr. Boyd in the sixth grade, is beginning her fifth year of teaching. She is outstanding and making an impact, said one of her principals.
She is Ms. Allen. And now, Mr. Boyd, is just Allen.