Emmanuel Little can count on one hand the number of teachers he had growing up who looked like he does.
When he talks with black male students at college fairs about going into teaching, sometimes it’s the first time they’ve even considered the possibility.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” he said. “Nationwide, less than 2 percent of all teachers are black males. (Teaching) was never even something I thought about growing up.”
Little is director of a Georgia College program that’s working to create a more diverse teacher workforce by attracting black men and other underrepresented populations to the profession. Call Me Mister — Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models — started at Clemson University, and Georgia College is among seven national partner schools and the only one in Georgia.
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Georgia College’s first “misters” entered the program in fall 2015, and now there are seven members: one freshman, five sophomores and one junior. Little hopes to have 10 to 15 participants by next year.
“There’s no more important job than becoming a teacher to truly change the world,” he said. “A transformative teacher is something that changes whole generations of people. If you’re up to that challenge, I really encourage you to consider Call Me Mister.”
Participants must be education majors, and all the current students are focusing on middle school. The program is looking for students to go into early childhood education, where there is the greatest need, Little said.
Those selected through the application process have the opportunity to receive scholarships, and they are expected to teach in the state for as many years as they receive financial assistance. They serve as role models inside and outside the classroom.
In addition to College of Education requirements, participants attend biweekly leadership seminars and weekly one-on-one sessions with Little, said sophomore Brian Bowman, a Macon native who joined the program in 2015.
Participants are matched with mentors who teach at the college level or have experience in K-12 education, Little said. They also learn from the other students and have a brotherhood that continues after college graduation. Most of the members live in the same residence hall, said sophomore Homer Jones, another Macon native who also started in 2015.
“This program has helped me solidify my passion for education,” Bowman said. “(It) has helped me build so many relationships with seasoned teachers and also with members of the cohort that I will be going through with. Just having that foundation, knowing that I have a support system no matter what I’m going through has been very beneficial to me.”
They get experience working with children as they volunteer and observe in area classrooms, Little said. The participants mentor Baldwin County students through Male Connection — Mentoring African-Americans for Leadership, Education and Connection — and help middle schoolers and high schoolers in Georgia College Early College build robots with Starbase 2.0.
“These gentlemen are from the moment they become misters finding some way to get exposed to a classroom environment,” Little said. “(We help) them understand that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach in education. You’ve got to have all the tools in your toolbox to reach the students.”
Bowman, who helps with Starbase 2.0, said the first-hand teaching experience has helped him feel more confident in the classroom. Jones volunteers every Tuesday and Thursday with an arts and literacy program in elementary schools, and he finds ways to teach or tutor almost daily.
He said the program has made him realize he doesn’t just want to be a teacher, but an educator. He’s learned things about the profession that some people don’t tackle until three years into their career.
The program’s Rising Mister Academy is making sure young men know about teaching as a career option before their senior year of high school. About 30 rising 10th- through 12th-graders will be accepted for the free, overnight camp, slated for June 4-10 on the Georgia College campus.
“Every day, it’s a new journey because we do so much,” Jones said. “It’s just amazing that a small group of African-American males who want to teach can come together and change the face of education. With Call Me Mister, we can reach out to other young men, whether they want to be educators or not, and we can help them.”