Only 2 percent of teachers in the United States are black men—and the same is true of Hispanic male teachers. That’s leaving a distinct lack of relatable role models for the increasingly diverse student population of the nation’s public schools.
That’s why Roy Jones, Ed.D., a professor at Clemson University’s College of Education in Clemson, South Carolina, initiated the Call Me MISTER program in 2000 to recruit minority men to go into the field of education. MISTER is an acronym for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models. The program includes scholarships, academic counseling, mentors, and summer teaching internships for male students of color who are majoring in education at 24 South Carolina universities.
“Our ‘Misters’ come from the same environment, the same places and spaces that the children come from. That’s why they relate so well and can bring them along,” Dr. Jones explained. And this relatability factor really does make a difference. According to a 2017 study, black students—especially low-income black boys—who had at least one black teacher in elementary school are much more likely to graduate high school and to be interested in pursuing college.
Call Me MISTER aims to provide the kind of support and camaraderie that men are already drawn to in other higher-paying professions like athletics, healthcare, and business. The education field doesn’t usually provide that strong draw—especially for young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and want to find financial stability—but in Call Me MISTER, “the guys are so dynamic—that’s what changes the narrative and the perception of going into teaching as a vocation,” says Dr. Jones.
Of the 275 men who have successfully completed the Call Me MISTER program over the past 19 years, 95 percent are now working as teachers and the other 5 percent are working as principals or in other education leadership roles.
Allen Taste, who is enrolled in Call Me MISTER as a senior at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, revealed to WIS News about being part of the program, “Being surrounded by a group of people with the same passion, same mindset as you was definitely something I needed considering where I came from.” He is planning to teach middle school when he graduates. “Maybe I can be that person who I needed when I was younger, for somebody else,” he said.