Nation’s Pupils Find Few Black Men to Call Mister

Kathy Matheson, Comcast News, October 9, 2009

Lenny Macklin made it to 10th grade before having a teacher who looked like him–an African-American male. Gregory Georges graduated from high school without ever being taught by a black man.

Only about 2 percent of teachers nationwide are African-American men. But experts say that needs to change if educators expect to reduce minority achievement gaps and dropout rates.

Macklin, now an 18-year-old college student, said he understands the circle that keeps many of his peers out of the classroom professionally.

“A lot of males, they don’t like being in school because they can’t relate to their teacher,” said Macklin, of Pittsburgh. “So why would you want to work there?”

American teachers are overwhelmingly white (87 percent) and female (77 percent), despite minority student populations of about 44 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s a job men generally avoid because of gender stereotypes, fear of abuse accusations and low pay, said Bryan Nelson, founder of the Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization MenTeach. The average U.S. teacher salary was about $51,000 in 2006-07.

Yet increasing the number of minority teachers is important because of “the role model factor,” said Greg Johnson, a policy analyst for the National Education Association.

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MISTER is both an acronym–Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models–and a reference to the 1967 film “In the Heat of the Night,” in which Sidney Poitier’s character demands respect with the line, “They call me MISTER Tibbs!”

Designed to put more minority men at the head of the classroom, the initiative offers scholarships in exchange for teaching in public schools.

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To improve the national percentage of black male teachers to even 3 percent, another 45,000 would need to enroll.

One hurdle may be that the program is found mostly at historically black colleges and universities, which have lower graduation rates than colleges overall, according to an Associated Press analysis. Men at those schools have a paltry 29 percent graduation rate within six years, in part due to lack of money and poor academic preparation, the AP found.

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Hayward Jean, 27, has found teaching equally inspiring, though not without its challenges. Now in a low-income district in Orangeburg, S.C., Jean said he was caught off guard by the initially chilly reception from boys in his class.

Many are being raised by single mothers and are wary of black men abruptly entering and leaving their lives, Jean said.

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