The Importance of Mentoring Young African-American Males
Teachers need to realize that at home, in their neighborhoods, and in school, many students face difficulties that can interfere with learning. Compared to their middle-class counterparts, it is true that disenfranchised students are more likely to be exposed to safety and health risks and less likely to receive regular medical care. They’re more likely to be victims of crime. They’re less likely to attend schools that have talented and gifted programs and are more likely to be identified as learning or emotionally disabled and placed in Special Education. These children need caring adults who will mentor them during turbulent times and not give up on them.
During my second year of teaching, I had a young man in my class who would always get into fights. He had been held back twice. Because of that, he was older than the rest of the class. Through my many talks with him, I quickly picked up on why he behaved the way he did. He thought that asserting himself physically was the way males were supposed to act when they felt threatened or when they had a disagreement with someone.
He was the product of a single-parent household and rarely saw his dad. This young man was trying to become a strong Black man by mimicking what he saw other Black males doing in his neighborhood and on TV. This led me to think about how it would feel to be a kid whose father rarely came around, who desperately needed guidance but had no one to turn to, and who was continually being punished when he asserted his masculinity.
When I went home that night, I reflected what I could do to curb his aggressive tendencies and help him become a better student. When I arrived at school the next day and put my plan into action. While taking steps to avoid alienating him from his friends, I set out to become his much-needed mentor. During my planning period, he and I would sit around and talk about how his life was going. I worked with him on his conflict resolution skills, etiquette, and academics, and before long he was showing marked improvement.
I also checked in with his other teachers to see how he was doing in their classes. Over time, his grades improved, his office referrals decreased, and he became one of my best students. Due to his leadership status among his peers, an added bonus was that their behavior and academic performance improved, too.
Although this young man’s problems were caused primarily by the lack of a male role model, there are several other factors that can interfere with an African American student’s successful matriculation through today’s educational system.
What do you do to help African-American males who are underperforming in your classroom?