Grants seek Black males to teach in elementary schools
Edward Waters hopes to attract current high school, college students as future educators
By Denise Smith Amos
When Travis Pinckney was three or four years old, his father was jailed for selling cocaine. Through Pinckney’s elementary years, he had few Black male role models in school, he said. He remembers one moment of truth in high school, when he was studying for the SAT at the same time someone was trying to teach him how to cook crack.
“That’s not the kind of mentoring young Black boys need,” says Pinckney, now a guidance counselor at Andrew Jackson High. He told his story to about 100 African American high school and college students at Edward Waters College, when the college announced a new grant called the “Call Me Mister” program, designed to attract Black male high school and college students to study education and teach in inner-city elementary schools.
Black men make up 2 percent of the nation’s 4.8 million educators, but less than 1 percent of elementary school teachers. “We want young African American children to see who they can be,” said Marvin Grant, the college’s vice president of academic affairs.
The grant pays a full ride — after financial aid — for Black male students who qualify with at least a 2.5 GPA and high enough scores on an entrance exam. “African American males need to be in the elementary classroom to teach personal, social development, as well as academic development,” Pinckney said.
A Black male teacher can help young children associate positive feelings with a Black male face, he said. Currently, thanks to cultural and media influences, many children associate negative things with Black male faces, he said. “It’s time to flip the script and show them Black males can be positive influences,” he said. “If you don’t have a positive person in your life showing you how you should act, you’ll be lost.”
Pinckney credited Black men in high school and college who taught him to persevere. Without that, young Black males believe negative stereotypes about themselves, he said. Pinckney asked audience members how many have had a Black male teacher; 15 raised their hands. He asked how many have had relatives in prison; more than half raised their hands.
Pinckney said young Black boys will seek father figures where they can find them. “So if I fail my classes and skip school, guess what? I’ll have father figures in the streets,” Pinckney said.
Several high school students challenged the assumption that Black males would more effectively reach Black boys than other teachers. One asked if Black teachers are supposed to be “substitute father figures.”
Jacob Thomas, an education student, said a Black man who becomes a teacher should be prepared to deal with students’ personal issues. But a few students said male teachers aren’t always father figures. Niles Bland, a 16-year-old Ribault High student, said teachers seem like “partial dictators,” telling them what to do and when to do it, even when to eat or go to the bathroom.
Hurtis Wyche, an Edward Waters student, agreed that sometimes teachers care too much about “the little things,” but he counseled them to look for the positive lessons teachers are trying to instill. Pinckney agreed; “Turn your dictators into your navigators.”
Edward Waters College gave 10 existing students at the college the grants this year and plans to sponsor several cohorts of recipients over the next few years, said Tony Hill, former state senator who is a federal policy director in Jacksonville.
Jacob Thomas, who is studying education at Edward Waters, was one of the grant recipients. “A lot of students believe that they’re stuck where they are and can’t go beyond that,” he said. “A lot of students want to learn from someone they can relate to. I’m needed in the education system because I have that power and can use it for them.” Denise Amos can be reached at (904) 359-4083.