BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The shortage of teachers in America is a national issue. But another concern is the lack of Black males in the classroom. In Louisiana, two organizations are working to change that.
Grambling State University’s Call Me MiSTER program and Brothers Empowered to Teach (BE2T) are organizations that recruit and train men of color to become teachers with the hopes of increasing the number of Black male teachers in U.S. public schools.
George Noflin Jr., director of Call Me MiSTER at Grambling State University says, “You have to understand, we’re teaching young Black men to navigate in a predominately white female-oriented profession.”
Both groups say less than 2% of teachers in America are Black men. However, men of color make up about 7% of the U.S. population. Larry Irvin, the CEO of Brothers Empowered to Teach, says in Louisiana, the number of Black male teachers is only 12%. Ja’Deric Talbert, the president of Grambling’s Call Me MiSTER chapter, says extremely low pay is one of the main deterrents in the education profession.
“First thing you do when you’re looking for a job is Google the salary. And of course, teachers are underpaid nationwide. Education was never one of my top choices,” said Talbert.
Noflin says the goal is to shift the mindset of potential educators. He says teaching is about service to the community, not money.
“When you become an educator, a true educator, don’t look for the money. You look for the relationships and for the opportunity to serve students,” said Noflin.
Black male educators say there’s a bigger impact in the classroom when kids see an instructor who looks like them and deals with similar life experiences and biases.
“A lot of times, Black males are portrayed as thugs or violent just because I may have my hair locked. But just … I try to show myself as an intelligent individual. I try to show myself in a positive light rather than the negative aspect that social media does,” said Talbert.
“Kids become what they see,” Irvin says. “If we want to ignite the fire in the upcoming generations, they have to see other Black men teaching.”
Nolfin says it’s important to have Black representation in the classroom.
“A study done at John Hopkins which indicates if a Black student in grades three, four and five have a Black teacher, then they have a 39% higher opportunity to be able to graduate high school,” said Nolfin
Down in Southern Louisiana, Brothers Empowered to Teach, a nonprofit organization that supports and develops Black male undergraduate students who are interested in teaching in K-12 classrooms is also working to level the playing field (ratio) of Black male educators to students. They’re doing so by providing paid fellowships, introducing the fellows to teaching in classroom environments at partnering schools and facilitating conversations around masculinity, gender identity, resume building and marketing yourself within education.
“Brothers Empowered to Teach provides community and conversation for our young men who are going into the K-12 space, where they are not in highly represented demographics,” Irvin says. “A lot of times, students have never had a Black male teacher, especially in the K-5 level.”
On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted many people, communities and industries. The field of education took one of the biggest hits. Teachers are quitting at a higher rate than normal. This is causing more concern, considering minorities are already underrepresented in the teaching profession. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 44% of public schools reported vacancies at the start of the Fall 2022 semester.
“I know that there are people leaving the profession. But, I also know that that opens the door and opportunity for the young people that may not have thought about the possibility of teaching,” said Noflin.
Noflin says he’s not discouraged by the alarming statics. In fact, this is where Call Me MiSTER comes into play. The organization was originally founded on the Campus of Clemson University in 2000. Grambling started a local chapter in 2020. According to Noflin, Grambling State, one of the many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is one of the leading Call Me MiSTER” programs in the South.
Louisiana Congresswoman Julia Letlow helped to secure a $2 million federal grant for Grambling’s program. The money will help pay for scholarships. For that reason, students are required to submit a number of essays and go through rounds of interviews.
“We have to know that teaching is in your heart and that you’re not just coming for a scholarship,” said Noflin.
Upon graduation, students are required to teach in the state of Louisiana for the number of years they received funding during their undergraduate studies. In addition, Brothers Empowered to Teach, recently received a game-changing donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. Irving says with helpful donations, his nonprofit has placed 170 teachers since the beginning of 2014. Overall, Call Me MiSTER and Brothers Empowered to Teach are two life-changing groups that aim to set young Black men up for success.