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"Call Me MISTER" Prepares Future Teachers from Underrepresented Populations

Having a male teacher - especially one who shares your ethnic or cultural background - can change a young child's educational experience from average to inspiring. Thanks to a program at Longwood University, more students in Virginia are experiencing this benefit.

Known as "Call Me Mister," the program is run by director Dr. Neal Holmes, and recruits high-school and college students, many of whom are African American, to train as elementary school teachers.

When they go to work in the classroom, these "MISTERs" provide male role models and a more diverse educational experience for elementary school students. First developed at Clemson, Longwood started its program in 2007 and was the first school outside of South Carolina to implement the initiative.

Program participants attend an institute each summer, as well as intense workshops and monthly Saturday seminars. They receive hands-on field experience shadowing teachers for a true introduction to teaching. The program isn't limited to Longwood students; participants join from partner high schools, community colleges and other partnering four-year universities in Virginia.

Ultimately, the program supports MISTERs through graduation from Longwood or St. Paul's College and assists them in finding teaching positions, preferably in underserved schools in small, rural towns or inner-city neighborhoods.

"We work with many young African-American men in the Call Me MISTER program, as they are typically cited as the most alienated from the public school classroom. African-American boys and young men place a high value on education but often don't feel supported by their teachers, and face disproportionate levels of discipline within the schools," says Holmes.

The program concentrates specifically on developing elementary school teachers because there is a great opportunity to make an impact at this level.

"It's amazing to watch these young men grow and identify with the elementary students they are teaching," says Holmes. "One of our MISTERs is teaching a third-grader who was acting out. He soon discovered the child couldn't read. As he was talking to our MISTERs in training, one spoke up and shared that he had been in the same situation at that age. They traded ideas and suggestions to help the third-grader. It really reinforced that, in becoming educators, these young men are addressing real challenges and can greatly impact children's lives."

Learn more about Longwood's Call Me MISTER program