A Program that Recruits, Trains, Certifies, and Secures Employment for African-American Men as TeachersRoss Norton
The statistic is alarming: less than 1 percent, or fewer than 200, of South Carolina's 20,300 elementary school teachers are African-American men. A unique partnership is changing that. The Call Me MISTER program has received national attention and could become a model for similar efforts to increase the number of Black male teachers coast to coast.
National numbers are little better than those in South Carolina. According to an October 2004 report by the National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force, only 6 percent of the country's public school teachers are African American. The national Education Association reports that 25.8 percent of U.S. teachers are men. Only 9 percent of elementary school teachers are men. The numbers for Black males are even lower.
South Carolina's answer was launched when Clemson University and three historically Black colleges — Benedict College, Claflin University and Morris College — created the Call Me MISTER program to recruit, train, certify and secure employment for African-American men as teachers in the State's public elementary schools. The first class of MISTERs graduated in May 2004 and entered classrooms as strong, positive role models, mentors and leaders.
Another senior institution, South Carolina State University, and four two-year colleges, Midlands Technical College, Orangeburg/Calhoun Technical College, Tri-County Technical College and Trident Technical College, now join the four founding members of the partnership. Clemson is responsible for overall marketing and development, but each school is responsible for recruiting for its program.
The program appeals to young men who want to use their lives to change the lives of other African-American males. Recruits most often hear of Call Me MISTER while still in high school. The partner institution and its teacher education program first must accept students. After they're on campus, they apply to become program participants, or MISTERs.
Prospective MISTERs must demonstrate a commitment to becoming a teacher and submit to an interview before being admitted. The program includes about $5,000 in tuition assistance, but its real value to the MISTERs — and their future elementary students — is a high degree of personal development.
According to Call Me MISTER director Roy I. Jones, the MISTERs learn values, leadership skills, mentoring and how to be role models. They learn to be men. And it is those skills, paired with their academic preparation that will make them distinctive in the classroom.
"They have to know to and for whom they are to be good teachers," Jones says. "Teachers who don't know who they are don't need to be in the classroom."
Students in the modern elementary classroom are rife with personal and developmental problems. Many children are dealing with broken or dysfunctional homes. In their personal lives they are exposed to drugs, violence, a lack of supervision and, perhaps most significant, the lack of positive male role models.
For minority and non-minority children, the MISTER leading his class represents something they don't have in sports stars and entertainers: a Black man of authority whom they can reach out and touch.
"The MISTERs will have a different perspective than most of the other teachers," Jones says. "Some of them come from a dysfunctional background themselves. All of them represent a new breed of teacher: one uniquely prepared to address the whole child."
In a State where African-American men, although a significant part of the population, represent a blip on the elementary teacher rolls and 65 percent of the prison population, Jones believes Call Me MISTER will shatter stereotypes while it kicks open doors across the nation.
In 2001, Call Me MISTER was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and selected to be part of Oprah's Angel Network. The program also has received widespread recognition from former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and has been featured in such national media outlets as USA Today, TIME Magazine and National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."
Call Me MISTER sponsored a national conference on "Innovations in Recruitment, training and Retention of African-American Male Teachers" on March 18-20 in Greenville, S.C. The conference urged participants, who represented various higher educational institutions from several states, to form collaborative and strategic partnerships based on the Call Me MISTER model and experience. Attendees were given CDs, which included a PowerPoint presentation of the program components.
Speakers included former U.S. Secretary of Education and former South Carolina Governor Richard E. Riley; Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, founder and publisher of African American Images and author of more than 20 books; Abigail Thernstrom, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and co-author of several books, including No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning; and Crystal Keykendall, educator, lawyer and author of several books, including From Rage to Hope: Reclaiming Black and Hispanic Students.
"I'm convinced we are on the brink of a breakthrough with the Call Me MISTER program in addressing, to some degree, the very critical issues confronting our children in school. I am very proud of our MISTERs in training as well as our graduates who are now teaching in several elementary schools," Jones says. "We are on a mission that we believe will transform every life that the program and its participants touch."
For more information about the Call Me MISTER program, visit the Web site: http://www.callmemister.clemson.edu/ or telephone 864-656-4646.
Ross Norton is director of news at Clemson University.