Recruiting high-achieving men of color to produce effective teachers in the classroom.
In the United States, the majority of public school children are students of color. However, only 20% of public school teachers are racial and ethnic minorities. Call Me MISTER, an emerging program at Kansas State University, is working to diversify the teaching profession by preparing young men of color to teach in Kansas, providing students with teachers who look like them and can relate to their experiences.
Pioneered at Clemson University nearly 20 years ago, Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) is a nationally recognized initiative raising the pool of male teachers from diverse backgrounds to serve under-performing schools. K-State’s Call Me MISTER program launched in 2015 as part of a decades-long commitment by the College of Education to enrich schools by encouraging students from traditionally underrepresented communities to make teaching their career of choice.
“We recruit high-achieving men of color and work with them to produce effective teachers in the classroom and build good citizenship in these young men,” said Dr. David Griffin, recently retired assistant dean and director of the Center for Student Success and Professional Services in the College of Education. “Through rigorous academic programming, mentoring and leadership development, the end product of Call Me MISTER is to prepare graduates to be involved in the communities where they sign a contract to teach.”
Currently, K-State’s MISTER participants represent African American, Latino, Native American and Chinese communities. MISTERS are from both rural and urban areas of Kansas and some are pursuing teaching as a second career.
MISTERs receive modest tuition assistance, systematic academic support, social and cultural support, networking preparation and opportunities, and assistance with job placement. In this way, Call Me MISTER depends upon investments of time, partnerships and private philanthropy to continue. In line with the program’s strong emphasis on leadership and service, MISTERS have volunteered in local and regional elementary schools, including stepping in for parents/guardians unable to attend the Donuts with Dad and Mornings with Mom activities.
“They learn as teachers that not every parent/guardian can come to every event,” said Jamie Griffin, program coordinator for Call Me MISTER. “These young men are already serving schools and helping students envision themselves in education before they graduate.”
Byron Lewis IV, a first-generation student on track to graduate in December 2019 and the first Call Me MISTER president, knew he always wanted to be a teacher. As a high school student, he set up a service opportunity for his classmates to read with younger students at Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet School in Topeka, Kansas, where Lewis attended elementary school.
Because of his parents’ concerns about low teacher pay and the hard work inherent in the profession, Lewis began his college career as a communications major in a Kansas City-area university. While taking classes part-time, teaching preschool, interning and working at Blue Moose restaurant, he felt lost. As he worked to save for tuition, Lewis knew that one day he was going to be a teacher.
Then in 2015 he helped move his sister, Myah, to K-State and was impressed by how much she loved her university experience. With an offer to help launch Blue Moose’s Manhattan location, Lewis moved and transferred to K-State.
“When I got to K-State, things just started falling into place,” Lewis said. “K-State gave me my fresh start. I switched to the major I really wanted and got connected to Call Me MISTER. Now other MISTERs are like brothers to me. Call Me MISTER has allowed me to feel seen and represented.”
Despite the challenges of his collegiate beginnings, Lewis has excelled at K-State. In addition to his Call Me MISTER participation, he has served as a modern languages ambassador, EDCAT mentor, a mentor at a local after-school program, a para-educator at Bluemont Elementary school in Manhattan, Kansas, a United Black Voices Gospel Choir member and a volunteer.
In August he joined two other K-State students speaking before the new student convocation. This semester, he is student teaching in his home district, USD 501 in Topeka, and planning for his future of helping students see leaders who look like them and learning, among other academic endeavors, that they matter.
Soon Lewis will be a new graduate of K-State’s Call Me MISTER program and will return to his hometown to teach in the school district he attended as a youth. In a few years, he hopes to earn his master’s degree as he continues to teach and encourage students. “Call Me MISTER’s unique programming trains men to teach and handle any situation so they can be in rural and urban settings, wherever they are needed. I am very grateful for the opportunities and the networking MISTERs has provided. This program was tailored to me, a minority male, leading me into education. I can do the same for other kids.”
Griffin, in reflecting on the goal Call Me MISTER has for each participant, drew upon a line from the Spiderman movie franchise to sum it up; “Teachers have great power, and with great power comes great responsibility.”