Washington D.C. (CNN) - The shortage of African-American male teachers is a nationwide problem. Only percent of the nation's five million teachers are African-American. A Washington-area kindergarten teacher is tired of the statistics and wants other black men to step up for the future of children.
In the heart of Anicostia, one of Washington D.C.'s toughest neighborhoods, teachers are sometimes the last line of defense for children.
"A lot of them don't have a man at their home. A lot of them don't have a man to go to, to talk to," said Terris King, a teacher at Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys. "For a lot of them, I'm a big brother or dad... Some of them don't have a father figure at home and so when they get to school, for some of them, I am that figure.
"They need those things in their lives. They need someone in their lives who's strong. They need an African-American male in their lives."
Terris King not only teaches the basics, but also finds himself teaching life lessons to the kindergartners at Bishop Walker School, a school that serves just over 50 children from low-income homes. Statistically, King is what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan describes as a rarity in America's classrooms.
"About 17 percent of our students are public school students, across the nation, are African-American. About 7 percent of our teachers are African-American, very disproportionate. but if you look just on the male side, less than 2 percent-less than 1 in 50 teachers-is an African-American male," Duncan said.
A few years ago, Secretary Duncan launched a campaign to recruit more black male teachers. Has it been successful in his eyes?
"Well, we have a long way to go but it's been encouraging, so I think again, the goal is not to have a black male teacher, the goal is to have a great black male teacher or a great Hispanic male teacher or great whatever teacher," he said.
To that end, Duncan said in his new budget the Department of Education will offer brand new incentives to encourage school districts to raise the pay scale for starting teachers.
As a teacher himself, working to recruit graduates at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, Brandon Gillespie believes more pay is only part of the solution.
"Some are pretty hesitant just based on the salary, but at the end of the day, salary shouldn't be one of the hugest factors," Gillespie said. "We should give back to our communities and educate our community,"
Terri King said he's trying to do just that in his own classroom back in Washington D.C.
"They love to learn, as you can see. My goal here every day is to make sure that they love to learn and that they're having fun," King said. "But at the same time, making sure that they can compete with anyone across the country when it comes to academics."