ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There’s a new push to add more role models for students in the classroom. When you think of a teacher, you probably think of a woman leading the lesson plan.
ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill is exposing the growing importance of having diversity in the teaching ranks and is digging deeper to find out what’s being done to get more men and teachers of color in more Tampa Bay area classrooms.
Henry Burrows, or as his students call him “Mr. Burrows”, is a recent graduate from the University of South Florida. This is his first year teaching in the classroom.
“I had some really amazing teachers who kind of impacted my life and I kind of wanted to have the same impact on other students and be able to inspire them and tell them that they’re worth it and that they can achieve whatever they want to achieve,” said Burrows.
He teaches fourth grade at Bay Vista Fundamental Elementary school in St. Petersburg, but Henry is a part of a minority group of teachers. According to the Department of Education, nationwide, Black men only account for 2% of total teachers.
“One of the Black students said ‘Mr. Burrows, you’re my first boy teacher’ and then he said ‘you’re my first Black teacher, too. And then it kind of just reassured me that I was in the right profession,” said Burrows.
Henry says he wishes he had a Black teacher to look up to, but because he didn’t, he’s determined to be that role model for other kids of color.
“It’s important that they can see themselves in an education role. In a role where it’s OK to be educated and Black. A lot of times, we as a people, strive to be entertainers or athletes, which is all great, but, in addition to that, we’re able to be educated athletes and educated actors and educated citizens of the world,” said Burrows.
The National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a study where they found when Black students have at least one Black teacher in elementary school, they’re 13% more likely to graduate from high school and 19% more likely to enroll in college.
So, USF and the Pinellas County School District are teaming up to recruit more male, teachers of color in a program called “Call Me MiSTER.” MiSTER is an acronym that stands for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models.
“We don’t just want men that want to be teachers. We want men that have a heart and a passion for teaching effectively in urban schools,” said Dr. Brenda Walker, Associate Dean of the College of Education at the St. Petersburg campus of USF.
She says, once in the program, the MISTERs will go through the same curriculum as the other students studying Education.
"The bonus that they’ll get is we’ll have monthly seminars on how to be an effective teacher, how to be an effective leader in urban schools," Dr. Walker said.
Those seminars will be led by men of color who have been distinguished in their careers as educators.
“The whole mission, the whole purpose of the ‘Call Me MISTER’ program is to fill a very dire void in the school system,” said Dr. Walker.
According to the Florida Department of Education, Black men make up 4% of teachers in Pinellas County and the county has a goal to increase their number of teachers of color over the next few years. That’s why the MiSTERs who successfully complete the program will be guaranteed employment.
“When they graduate, they will have an automatic, guaranteed teaching position in an urban school in Pinellas County,” said Dr. Walker.
One professor of school psychology told ABC Action News having men of color leading classrooms is important for the development of students of all races because having diverse teachers in children’s formative years, allows them to have more compassion for people of different ethnicities when they get older.
“Being able to see positive examples represented in schools is powerful, not just for other little African American boys, but all children, of all cultures, ethnicities, races,” said Kahlila Lawrence, Professor of School Psychology at USF.
She says the benefit of having more Black, male teachers is they often can have more compassion because they know what it was like being a little Black boy.
“It’s very powerful to be able to see someone who looks like you, perhaps, has come from where you come from. Maybe they understand how you speak, your language. It’s super important to have individuals who understand your culture or where you’re from. So, that is huge when we have African American teachers, such as African American males coming into the schools," Professor Lawrence said.
The first cohort of the “Call Me MiSTER” program will start this coming fall. Dr. Walker said though they’re primarily looking for Black men, they’re also looking for other men of color to apply. If you’re interested in more information about this program, we’ve provided contact information below:
Dr. Brenda L. Walker
Dr. Sandra Vernon-Jackson