This story is part of the “Men in America” series on All Things Considered.
Less than 2 percent of the nation’s elementary school teachers are black men. A program at Clemson University in South Carolina is looking to change that.
This summer, at least twice a week, a group of young men — usually in flip-flops, T-shirts and cargo pants — will meet in a tiny apartment on the Clemson campus. They’re part of Call Me Mister, a program to train and support black men who want to become teachers. The goal is not just to diversify the nation’s teacher corps but to provide role models for troubled black boys.
Like 21-year-old Marshall Wingate, many of the teacher trainees share the background and experiences of some of their students.
“I actually can relate to a lot of kids because my father has been locked up. I remember seeing him beat my mom, and I’ve seen a lot I shouldn’t have seen,” he says. “I grew up too fast, as they say.”
Call Me Mister includes a network of two-year and four-year partner colleges. Participation gives these men student loan forgiveness, job placement, the support of a cohort, and help learning classroom management and instructional techniques. Most of all, it prepares them to be mentors.
“I am the embodiment of hope,” says Michael Barron, a 29-year-old teacher and graduate of the program who grew up poor, the child of drug addicts.
That embodiment extends to personal appearance. Gesturing to his shirt and tie, he says, “Unless they’re going to two different places — one would be court, the other would be church — that’s typically the only time you see in my community a guy wearing a shirt and tie.”
Call Me Mister has trained and placed 152 male, African-American teachers in eight states. The program has 150 more in the pipeline.