February 17, 2021
Journalism Instructor Looks to Write a New Chapter
in the Educational Landscape
One day, Edward Rice, Ed.D., hopes to see others who mirror him standing in front of a classroom.
At the K-12 level just two percent of educators are African American males. At the university level only five percent of full-time faculty members are black in the United States.
A journalism instructor at Moreno Valley College, Rice participated in the Best Men Teach Project: Black Excellence in Scholarship and Teaching (Project BEST). A partnership between the Kern High School District and California State University, Bakersfield, the symposium convenes faculty from 23 CSU campuses in order to engage with nationally-recognized leaders in higher education. In just its second year, Project BEST hopes to inspire Black and Latinx male high school juniors and seniors to consider a career in education.
"The idea is to expose individuals, especially African American males, to the benefits of teaching," Rice said. "Ultimately, the goal is to increase the number of men of color in secondary classrooms."
At this year's event, Rice presented Unlocking Life's Possibilities: The True Value of Education.
"It showcased my journey as a student and an educator," said Rice, a graduate of Howard and Northwestern universities and the University of Southern California. "I discussed how I leveraged my education to discover and create the life that I want to live. Through sharing my story, I wanted to dispel myths about careers in education as well as inspire others to consider becoming educators. I discussed the need and importance of men of color in classrooms, sharing my experience as a classroom teacher."
Project BEST looks to identify Black and Latinx males, guiding them through a college preparatory program while encouraging academic excellence and good attendance starting with their freshman year of high school. The program offers enrichment activities in order to acquaint students with educational opportunities. It also provides assistance with college applications, SAT/ACT and scholarships.
And it isn't always an easy sale.
"Something you have to consider is a lot of these young men haven't had the best K through 12th grade educational experiences, and then we're turning around saying now go become a teacher," Rice said. "A lot of them will say, 'I'm good. I've done my time in the educational system and I'm not going back.' It is almost like they have been paroled."
Organizers of the symposium are hoping that having education leaders discuss their careers, and the ups and downs, that it will inspire more African American men to pursue a career in the classroom.
"Many of us at the symposium have had different experiences, yet chose to make education our career path," Rice said. "And we hope by (sharing our stories) we are making it better for those who come from behind us. For many of us our journeys were not straight paths (to the classroom)."
Rice's journey was anything but straight. The son of a schoolteacher, Rice had his eyes set on a career in music. Not as a musician, but as a journalist covering the music scene. He wrote or interned at several of the top music magazines, even interning for People magazine.
"I grew up on hip hop, couldn't rap, but I could write," he said. "It allowed me to be in that industry, doing something I love."
Graduating from Northwestern, Rice was set to move to New York to join a publishing house. However, the death of his schoolteacher mother drew him to California. And it wasn't long before he had a wife and a child on the way.
"I was freelancing in the industry, but I realized quickly I needed a career with a steady paycheck and health benefits," he said.
Rice is now 20-plus years into teaching, including the last 18 months as an assistant professor of Journalism at the College, after launching his educational career as a 5th grade teacher. Ironic, considering that most students won't see a male instructor until secondary school. In fact, upwards of 80 percent of students won't see a man of color ever in the classroom. And it isn't uncommon for a student not to interact with a male instructor until college.
Rice hopes sharing personal stories through Project BEST that he and others can change the tide by instilling in students that there is a need for African American and Latinx males in the classroom.
"Many times, students think because you are a teacher you were a great student and that you followed the traditional path of going from school to school until completion," Rice said. "For many of us it didn't happen that way. The other thing is a career in education isn't looked upon as a glamorous field and they believe you can't make a lot of money at it. Another stigmatism we see is that teaching is considered a female profession.
"Something a lot of these students don't know is that the black middle class was built on education. At a time, we could only be schoolteachers."
Studies have shown that individuals who haven't had an interaction with a man in the classroom prior to college are less likely to trust them, believe in their expertise, and then there becomes a disconnect because of the questioning (within one's own mind), Rice said.
And it isn't just the student who suffers.
"It also makes the teaching experience hard for that teacher," he said. "So, the need (for male instructors) is very much there at the younger levels of education."
It is too early to tell if Project BEST is making an impact. This year's event was just its second. Rice figures it will take up to five years before officials can measure its impact.
"I share with the students that I think teaching was in me, but I didn't know it and didn't want to do it," he said. "Once I got into the classroom though I fell in love with it. In the end, the classroom was a natural fit for me.
"Although it wasn't what I set out to do, I did find a passion for teaching. But it wasn't until I reached higher ed that I feel like I truly found my calling."