1:15 PM / Tuesday March 21, 2023

10 Feb 2023

Center for Black Educator Development seeks apprentice teachers now

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February 10, 2023 Category: Education Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Black children benefit greatly from Black teachers. (Photos courtesy: Center for Black Educator Development)

By Constance Garcia-Barrio

Black teachers are incomparable in instructing Black children, but their numbers are woefully low, says Sharif El-Mekki, founder and CEO of Philadelphia’s Center for Black Educator Development (CBED). 

That state of affairs poses grave problems, he said.

“It’s critical to have more Black teachers in public schools to accelerate Black students’ achievement and to interrupt anti-Black messages,” El-Mekki said. 

A mountain of research supports El-Mekki’s stance. Teachers of color expect — and get — more from students of color, according to a report cited in “The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce,” published by the U.S. Department of Education in 2016. Michael Hines, 36, an assistant professor and historian of American education at Stanford University Graduate School of Education, agreed.

 “Students of color see improved academic performance, increased graduation rates, lower likelihood of suspensions, and higher rates of college matriculation when taught by Black teachers,” Hines said. “Additionally, many Black teachers come from the very communities they serve, giving them the deep roots and lasting commitments — critical to building successful schools.” 

Pennsylvania and the nation have dismal numbers when it comes to preparing and retaining Black teachers once they’re hired. 

“In Pennsylvania, 94% of teachers are white,” El-Mekki said. 

The Center for Black Educator Development strives to help solve that problem.

 “We seek to revolutionize education by increasing exponentially the number of Black educators so that low-income Black children and other disenfranchised young people can reap the benefits of a quality public education,” he said. “With just one Black teacher, Black boys are up to 39% less likely to drop out of school, and they’re up to 29% more likely to go on to college. Imagine if they had even more Black teachers.”

The challenge of boosting the number of Black teachers consists of several parts, El-Mekki said. He poses key questions: “Who is being introduced to the possibility of a teaching career and at what age?” he said. “What’s being done to retain Black teachers? What policies support Black teachers and interrupt racism in school districts and at the state level? There’s a whole ecosystem involved.”

CBED’s Freedom School Literacy Academy (FSLA) helps to address the lack of Black teachers. The program, which runs after school and in summer, invites Black youths into the teaching profession at an early age, El-Mekki said. Apprentice teachers provide instruction for rising first, second and third-grade students. The programs help to prevent “summer slide,” where students lose scholastic ground during vacation months.

Apprentice teachers receive two weeks of training, then they spend five weeks in the classroom, teaching from 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. There are breaks for snacks and mindfulness activities.

 “Each class has ten students. There’s a core curriculum with room for them to create and design their own lesson plans. Apprentice teachers are observed and they gather for mentoring after school. It’s almost like student teaching,” El-Mekki said, noting that apprentice teachers have a classroom assistant. 

Apprentice teachers receive a stipend. High school apprentices can be from rising sophomores through twelfth graders and recent graduates, while college apprentices can be from freshmen to seniors.

Freedom School became a family affair for three sisters — Briana Amaya, 23, Oriana Smith, 17, and Tatiana Amaya, 22 — who’ve all served as apprentice teachers. Their experience was characterized by a variety of benefits, they said in their reports.

Briana was about to start her sophomore year at Penn State in 2018 when she heard about the apprenticeship opportunity. 

“I couldn’t pass it up,” she said. “It would provide me with the teaching experience that I needed.”

She found that the curriculum confronted critical issues. 

“We discussed topics like the 13th Amendment [which abolished slavery], redlining, and the importance of reading,” Briana wrote. “We talked about some schools nearby having more resources than ours and [we] had important conversations about that situation. It was important to learn how students felt about these topics in their own words”

Briana now teaches a special education class. “I chose to go into special education because of my experience of receiving special education services when I was younger,” she said. “I felt like I could help students who are struggling… and need academic support. I could relate to [these] students and teach them strategies that worked for me.”

Tatiana, who learned about FSLA from Briana, plans to have a career in education policy. 

“I thought that it would be beneficial to gain experience in the classroom,” she wrote. “I’m currently nearing my senior year in college at Claremont McKenna College [in California]. I am going to Urban Teachers for my master’s at American University and to get more time in the classroom.”

Tatiana found the teaching apprenticeship freeing. 

“I could be authentic all the time,” she reported. “I never needed to dim my personality or code switch and was able to be who I am and to connect to my students in the way I felt was needed and necessary.  

Oriana Smith, the youngest of the sisters and currently a high school student, learned about FSLA from her ninth-grade teacher. 

“I love kids so I knew it would be a fun summer,” said Oriana, who discussed her decision with her sisters. “The biggest challenge I faced was creating lessons for reading aloud. I had to master skills of time management and improvisation to keep the kids engaged.”

Smith also made discoveries. 

“I learned that students are extremely intelligent,” she said. “Many students shocked me with how fast they were able to grasp new ideas. New life lesson: never underestimate a kid!”

For El-Mekki, the apprentice teacher program represents a critical step, and he said that CBED has formed partnerships with other organizations to offer more comprehensive help. The Future Black Teachers of Excellence Fund, which finances the Black Teacher Pipeline Fellowship, collaborates with the United Negro College Fund, El-Mekki said. 

“Together we can help not only with questions like the cost of getting a degree in teaching but with intangibles like emotional support,” he said.

CBED has opened applications for teaching apprenticeships for 2023. 

“We’re seeking applicants who are leaders, who want to promote social justice through teaching, who want to lift while they climb.”   

To apply for a position as an apprentice teacher or to learn more about the Center for Black Educator Development, please visit: or use the following link:

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