There’s a dire need for male teachers of color. These men are stepping up – San Bernardino Sun

Latino males make up less than 6% of California’s public school teachers and Black males make up around 1% — two shockingly low statistics that have prompted a slew of new initiatives to bring more men of color into the classroom.

“There’s just simply not enough educated, Black or Brown men contributing to education,” said Joshua Shuford, a substitute teacher in the Rialto Unified School District. “Us teachers are taking back the power of freedom, unity and equality, from a system that’s not meant to help young men of color succeed.”

Shuford is a graduate of California State University, San Bernardino’s Project Impact, a program at the school’s College of Education that provides a community for minority males pursuing teaching, and helps deploy them to campuses in the Inland Empire.

CSUSB College of Education Dean Chinaka DomNwachukwu said that Project Impact is a “new face of the civil rights movement,” which trains educators to create a learning environment where their students feel represented, seen and inspired.

“A lot of Black men are in prison, or we’re homeless, or we’re dead,” said Project Impact member Dennis Baylis, who teaches in the Riverside Unified School District. “But having an opportunity to be able to teach and work with kids, to show them there is an opportunity for them if they apply basic learning skills, that’s what sold me into education.”

Similar initiatives exist at colleges of education at California State University, Fullerton and California State University, Northridge. And in Los Angeles, the Watts of Power Foundation is recruiting more Black male teachers through its Teacher Village fellowship.

Collectively, these programs are fighting the dire shortage of male teachers of color across Southern California.

To successfully do so they must overcome both the factors driving a national teacher shortage — low pay, stressful working conditions, lack of preparation or support — and challenges specific to male teachers of color.

These include feeling isolated among staff, confronting the stereotype that teaching is a woman’s job, being pigeonholed in roles like disciplinarian or PE teacher, and having lower college graduation rates than their white counterparts.

For aspiring minority educators, community is essential to success

“A lot of male students don’t see education as a viable career choice because it’s always been represented with women; so they steer away from it,” said Guadalupe Garcia, the coordinator for CSU Fullerton’s Men of Color in Education program. “Students have expressed that they sometimes feel left out in their classes. They might be the only Black or Brown man in a room full of 30 students.”

Men of Color in Education recruits and provides resources for students at the university’s College of Education and connects them to jobs on campuses in Orange County. Men of Color in Education and other programs for minority male educators work to combat the isolation felt by many, by providing them with a community.

“We’re really, really close — those are like my big brothers, for sure,” said Jamaal Lee, an inaugural member of the Teacher Village Fellowship and a teacher at Windsor Hills Elementary School in South LA, referring to his fellow cohort members.

The Teacher Village fellows meet once a month to discuss their experiences in the classroom and undergo additional training on topics not covered in standard credentialing programs. These trainings are led by Didi and Peter Watts, lifelong educators and co-founders of the Watts of Power Foundation.

Fontae Smith, a Teacher Village fellow, said he especially appreciated the training on self-care.

“I’m a funnel, and I pour (my energy) into the students,” said Smith. “Sometimes our cup doesn’t run over, it runs out. I have to keep myself being the best version of me, so I can be the best teacher for my students.”

Self-care is also a key topic discussed in CSU Fullerton’s Men of Color in Education program.

“We’ve covered how to navigate machismo; how men can address mental health; what self-care can look like for a man of color,” said Garcia. “Black and Latino men have often not been taught to ask for help — but to handle it on your own, do it by yourself.”

In addition, Men of Color in Education members will often discuss their own experiences with racism on campus and the importance of speaking up.

“Orange County is predominately white, so as Black and Latino men, many have had encounters where they’re not being taken as seriously because of the way they look, or their age … so they might work as substitutes or teacher assistants,” Garcia said. “They always have to try harder than non-BIPOC students to be taken as seriously.”

History major Jesus Eugenio wants to teach history in the Anaheim Union High School District, where he grew up. He graduates from Cal State Fullerton in the spring and plans to pursue his teaching credential.

Coming from a Mexican family in Anaheim, he said he’s had few male teachers of color, despite the fact that Anaheim’s population is more than 50% Latino.

“Growing up, I told my friends in elementary school that I wanted to be a teacher, but I was told it’s a woman’s job,” Eugenio, 23, said.

What drew him to the Men of Color program in 2020 was the ability to “finally hang out with other men who want to be impactful educators like me.”

The communities formed through these programs play a key role in ensuring that they stay in the teaching field once they finish their credential.

Retaining male teachers of color is as important as recruiting them

“Quite often they will be the only Black man — sometimes the only Black person on campus,” DomNwachukwu said, referring to Project Impact graduates. “I was that only Black man when I was teaching K-12, and it can be very discouraging. If there’s no support, those men will quit.”

John Reveles, an elementary education professor at CSU Northridge, has made it his mission to improve the retention rate of male teachers of color in Los Angeles.

“Research indicates that males tend to leave the field within their first three years of teaching,” said Reveles. “We’re trying to support them in those critical first three years of teaching, and help their administrators really support male teachers of color in ways that will help them on stay in the field.”

Reveles created the Male Teachers of Color Network, which works with school districts to provide a space for new minority male educators to share their struggles and advice. The program also works with school administrators to help them create a more inclusive environment for staff and ensure that men of color are receiving fair treatment and consideration for job assignments.

“Teachers and administrators work with each other (in the program) to solve professional and personal issues, because oftentimes men (of color) feel isolated when they’re in a school — or they’re assigned tasks like dean of discipline,” said Reveles. “They get encapsulated into these various roles that are not really what they’re there to do, which is to teach.”

The three-year pilot program in the Male Teachers of Color Network was carried out at the Compton Unified School District from 2018 to 2021, and only one of the 18 initial participants left teaching. Reveles is now implementing a similar program at Los Angeles Unified School District, thanks to funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

LAUSD is making a targeted effort to better recruit and retain Black teachers following a recent study that showed about 2,000 Black students attended a school without a single Black educator from 2016 to 2022. In this same time period the district lost nearly 100 Black teachers every year.

Improving retention of male teachers of color is essential, because they have a unique and often transformative impact on their students, Reveles said.

‘Those kids need to see a teacher that looks like them’

“You can really see the dynamics change when it comes down to me in the classroom versus somebody else,” said Lee. “They can see a young black man really making it, and I can influence those kids to hopefully do the same.”

The presence of Black male teachers has a demonstrated impact on student success. For example, a study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and American University found that Black boys who have at least one Black teacher in their elementary years have better attendance rates and a higher interest in attending college than those who don’t.

Smith said that his background as a Black male from Compton helps him better connect with and assist his students at Soleil Charter Academy in Lynwood.

“I understand things that a child is going through because I went through the same circumstances, because I’m from the area that they’re from,” Smith said. “If I have a student that comes in grumpy, I’m not going to just assume it’s a behavior issue, I’m asking different questions: are you tired, did you have a good night, are you hungry?”

Baylis, of Project Impact, said he’s seen a huge need for teachers who understand kids who are growing up in tough home environments, low-income neighborhoods, the foster care system — or have an imprisoned parent.

“Those kids need to see a teacher, somebody that looks like them, that really cares about them,” he said. “Once you connect with those kids emotionally, help meet their needs physically … then you can bring in the curriculum and hold them accountable to learn.”

Not only students of color can benefit from having more diverse men in the classroom.

“When white students see role models of people of color, particularly Black men, in positions of authority and who show care and concern for them, it has an impact on them (becoming) anti-racist,” said Peter Watts, co-founder of the Watts of Power Foundation and Teacher Village initiative.

‘Go for it; representation matters’

Smith, Lee, Baylis, Eugenio and Shuford are aware and proud of the power they yield. These men are at the vanguard of a movement with the potential to transform the educational and life outcomes of thousands of Southern California students.

Now, they are calling on more men of color to join them.

“For any man of color who wants to teach, who wants to follow this profession, never let intimidation get to you,” said Eugenio. “Along the way you will find people who do look like you and want to be impactful teachers for the next generation. Just go for it; representation matters.”

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