As Black History Month comes to a close, I would be remiss if I didn’t share my thoughts with the world about the global phenomenon that is Abbott Elementary and the amazing portrayal of Black male educators on the show.

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As Black History Month comes to a close, I would be remiss if I didn’t share my thoughts with the world about the global phenomenon that is Abbott Elementary and the amazing portrayal of Black male educators on the show.

A Thank You Letter to Quinta Brunson and Tyler James Williams,

Every Wednesday night millions of people tune in to watch Abbott Elementary, around the globe. Some of them are educators, but most of them are not. But when your show comes across the screen, the whole world stops and becomes entrenched in the walls of a school in Philadelphia. You have been meticulous in your approach in representing the trials and triumphs of the educators and staff who work in disinvested and marginalized communities, informing those who are far removed from the intricacies of the classroom, of the daily challenges educators face and I thank you!

You see, I have engaged in extensive national work related to the recruitment and retention of Black teachers, especially, males. I co-wrote the paper To Be Who We Are: Black Teachers on Creating Culturally Affirming Schools, with Sharif El-Mekki. We used the voices of more than 100 Black teachers, nationwide, to learn the challenges they face and the cultural acceptance they desire. I am a fierce advocate of the Center for Black Educator Development’s global campaign, We Need Black Teachers. This is so important because the alarming data tells us that Black students are thirteen percent more likely to attend college if they have one Black teacher and the number nearly triples if they have two or more Black teachers throughout their educational journey.

I am the executive producer of the internationally award-winning documentary, From the Block, which explores the significant impact Black teachers, in impoverished communities, have on the academic and professional development of students and colleagues, regardless of race and ethnicity. As the Director of Teacher Engagement at City Teaching Alliance-Dallas, a national non-profit that prepares teachers, I am dedicated to diversifying the teacher pipeline with culturally responsive teachers and recruiting and retaining Black teachers who will thrive in classrooms across the country. Although I LOVE the work, I do… I will never have the global reception and embrace of Abbott Elementary. However, I am forever indebted to Quinta and Tyler because this television show ensures my work will be better received by the masses.

More importantly, I thank you for the light you have shone on Black male teachers in the development of the character of Gregory Eddie. Your design of the character archetype and his uncanny ability to bring life to the idea of the significance of Black male teachers is unprecedented. In our world, Black male teachers are often bullied and beaten down. They are used as ‘disciplinarians’ for the ‘unruly’ Black boys in the schools in which they teach. Very few are offered leadership opportunities because they are not seen as progressive professionals who desire more. But Tyler has changed the perception of Black male teachers in a major way.

He exemplifies professionalism in the way he shows up as a model for the students on the campus, especially those who look like him. He humanizes Black male teachers, shunning the stereotype of loud and gregarious men who are only good for giving consequences and being athletic coaches. Not that there is anything wrong with being a coach, but it is sometimes a very confining space, in which Black male teachers are often forced. Instead, Tyler is unapologetic in showcasing the expansive range of Black men.

When he is counseling Black boys on the ideas of being in monogamous relationships or the importance of education and the power it presents in this world, he is showing up as many of the Black male teachers I have taught alongside. When he creates a garden to teach students how to become self-sufficient and healthy by growing their foods and eradicating the food deserts into which they are born, he is the true example of the Black community organizations that support disenfranchised schools, by providing the resources to educate students on agriculture. His presence on the screen allows others to fully understand that Black children, especially Black boys, are not a monolith, but instead are multi-faceted and need to be taught and nurtured as such. 

Every Wednesday night I rush to watch Abbott Elementary. I do so because it is popular and polarizing. But most importantly, I do it because you keep getting it right! The relationships are present. The diversity is evident. Your ability to use symbolism is incomparable. You take me back to the sixteen years I spent in classrooms in South Oak Cliff, one of Dallas’s most impoverished areas and I wipe away tears as I see myself and my colleagues show up in every single character on the screen. Where else can Black male teachers go and see themselves be presented so positively and authentically?

In a recent interview on Sway’s Universe Tyler said to a Black male teacher who called in, “Thank you for the work that you do…because doing Abbott has been an education for me on the work that teachers do and the unsung heroes that they are. And at some point, you have to be called to it. It’s something that nobody claps for you for…And you show up every day and you do it. And it’s HARD! Thank you for doing it in the midst of the silence. It is one of the greatest honors of my career to be able to give you something to look at and see yourself.” MIC DROP!!!!

Thank you, Quinta and Tyler!

Love Always,

Shareefah Mason, a Black, female educator

Shareefah Mason is the Director of Teacher Engagement at City Teaching Alliance-Dallas, formerly Urban Teachers, a national non-profit educator preparation program that welcomes prospective teachers, across the country, to hone their teaching skills in Dallas, Philadelphia, Baltimore and D.C. She is a former State of Texas Master Teacher, serving sixteen years in the South Oak Cliff community, one of Dallas’s most disinvested areas. She served on the Texas State Board of Educator Certification and was an Associate Dean at Dallas College, leading on the team which brought the first teacher apprenticeship to the state. She has written numerous Op-Eds and papers regarding the recruitment and retention of teachers of color and creating culturally-affirming schools for Black teachers . She delivered a polarizing TEDx Talk on teacher diversity and produced an international award-winning documentary, From the Block, amplifying the extraordinary impact of Black teachers on the academic and professional development of students and colleagues. 

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