Last June, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put out the call for more Black male teachers. Understanding the need for stable, strong and competent male role models for young African-Americans, Duncan told CNN, “As a country we have a huge challenge to make sure many more of our young Black boys are successful.… To get there I’m convinced we have to have more men of color teaching being role models, being mentors.”
Today, less than two percent of America’s teachers are Black men. With millions of Black children learning in the nation’s public school system, that’s a terrible disparity — while many white children are able to make role models out of teachers who look like them, most African-American kids simply aren’t able to do that. A new program in South Carolina hopes to change that, at least partially.
The Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role models) program was developed at the Clemson University in 2000. In it, young African-American males are given the tools and education necessary to get in the classroom and become teachers for South Carolina’s Black youth. For their efforts, the future educators are rewarded with tuition assistance in the form of loan forgiveness. According to the program website, the ultimate goal of MISTER is “to increase the pool of available teachers from a broader more diverse background.” And thus far that’s been working.
Seven years after its founding, MISTER made its way to the College of Charlston in South Carolina, and this year the first MISTER graduates entered the Charleston public school system. The results in Charleston have yet to be seen, but past successes of the program have people optimistic. “[MISTER] is important because if you don't have a father figure in the home, a male elementary teacher could help bridge that gap,” according to Floyd Breeland, the College of Charleston MISTER program’s head and a former school administrator.
For their part, the teachers themselves are quite satisfied and confident in what they’re doing. Jimmy Freeman, one of C of C’s new graduates, says that he intends to be a smarter disciplinarian than other teachers might be, due in part to the fact that he remembers white teachers who were harsher on Black male students.
Again, whether Freeman emerges as a major success has yet to be seen. However it’s hard to imagine that having confident, talented and educated Black men in classrooms could end up being a net negative. Kids need people to look up to. And for Black boys, it’s important that sometimes, when they look up, they see someone who looks like them.
(Photo: Call Me Mister/Clemson.edu)