'Teacher Village Initiative' aims to recruit more Black men as teachers

Data shows Black men are severely underrepresented in the teaching profession, and a program, launched by a South Los Angeles couple, aims to improve the pipeline gap for Black male educators.

Dr. Peter Watts and Dr. Didi Watts, a married couple, are both long-time educators. They started their educational organization, the Watts of Power Foundation in 2017.

"Its focus is to change education or the narrative around education, but it is working through the adults who work with children to make the change," said Didi.

In 2021, the Watts couple launched the "Teacher Village Initiative," a two-year residency program for prospective Black male teachers. The program is in its second cohort, so far enlisting 15 men.

"It focuses on the recruitment, retention, training and housing of Black men who want to become teachers in schools in Los Angeles," said Peter.

The program has partnerships with Cal State University Dominguez Hills and LAUSD. The fellows receive their credential through Cal State and LAUSD gives the fellows a job in the district once they've completed the program.

"We have a local educational agency that we partner with so the young men know I'm going to have a job. That's the first part because that can be a challenge for young men saying 'I want to do this but how do I know or where am I going to find a job?' A partnership with an institution of higher education and a local education agency just makes it all the better for our young men. I just think about the exponential number of students who are going to be touched by having had a Black male in their experience, a Black male teacher who is a highly qualified teacher," said Didi.

The latest data from the California Department of Education shows just one percent of teachers are Black males in the state.

The Watts couple said there are many barriers hindering Black men from becoming teachers.  

"When I go around to recruit young men to go into teaching, the first thing that they tell me is I don't want to return to the scene  of the crime, and I say what do you mean by that and I think about my own experience and they start talking about their own experience and how they experience some of the trauma in school, whether it was around suspension, or expulsion or anti-Blackness or discipline  that was disproportionate," said Peter.

However, statistics indicate better outcomes for Black students when they have a Black male teacher.

"We know there's data that suggests the  importance of having access and exposure  to a Black teacher, that if students in grades 3 through 5 have access to a Black teacher then their likelihood of dropping out of school decreases and their likelihood of wanting or thinking about college increases," said Didi.

Peter said their initiative aims to help young Black men overcome obstacles that stop  them from teaching.

"When I think about the work that we do, what we're doing is actually listening to young people who are saying these are the pain points that we're having as we're leaving college and thinking about careers and thinking about finances and stability and housing and it's us saying how can we support them to mitigate some of those barriers that they're facing to make it a little bit  easier for them to enter into the profession," said Peter.

Therefore, the program offers life skills training, and also affordable housing.

"My training program, the components of CARE, is something that isn't provided in teacher credentialing programs. We provide six modules of the components of care but over that first year before they ever become the teacher of record or in the classroom, we're providing them training in financial literacy and self care and trauma healing along with the components of care so that they are a whole human," said Didi.

The affordable housing is in the West Adams neighborhood. The home currently houses five fellows, but the Watts plan to build more housing on the same property.

"When it's all said and done, we'll be able to house ten young men who live in housing that's affordable right here in LA, next to the USC downtown area," said Peter.  

The Watts' son, Avery, is one of the program's participants, and lives in the housing.

"Living in Los Angeles, it's no secret it's very expensive out here so whenever you're able to get with like minded people and get in commune housing, you get to share  resources, share ideas about teaching but also the housing becomes affordable. It makes a huge difference for teachers," said Avery.

Avery is a physical education teacher and the Athletic Director at SEED School of LA County.  

"I've always had the natural inclination [to teaching] because my parents were teachers but I also realized I've always been a mentor type of person so whenever I  got into  college, my first job was actually teaching physical education after school. Being a Black male student, it's important to see someone that's leading positively as yourself," said Avery.

Both Peter and Didi said their students benefited from having them as examples in their classrooms.

"It meant my students got to see someone who looked like them. When I first started teaching, I very specifically sought out a program called the Ten Schools Program in LA Unified to work with the ten schools that served predominantly African American students that were the lowest performing," said Didi.  

"I started thinking about my kids who I was in front of and the impact I had as a highly effective Black male teacher in the classroom and how even students that I taught in my very first years in 1997, I'm still connected to and they are now young adults and have families and they say they still remember the things that I've said or done in the classroom. It's just been amazing to think about my career trajectory and the impact I've had on students and how I would want that for this next generation," said Peter.  

Fifteen men have completed the program so far who are serving 1,500 students and families in LAUSD. The long-term goal is to place 113 Black male teachers who are fully credentialed in schools and on the road to homeownership in the neighborhoods where they teach.

The Teacher Village Initiative is currently in a capital campaign to raise money to build additional housing, and they're also looking for housing partners. More information about the campaign and the initiative can be found on their website.