The critical shortage of Black male teachers: To close the gap, we have to start them young

DR. BETTYE PERKINS | 4/12/2011, 4:45 p.m.

If we do not do something to correct this imbalance, your child could go through his or her entire 13 years of public school education without ever seeing a teacher of color at the head of the classroom. That's an outrage, and it's not a new problem.

Sixteen years ago I founded an organization called "Today's Students, Tomorrow's Teachers" to boost the numbers of teachers of color. We did not try to solve the problem overnight by recruiting college graduates of color into the teaching profession--we decided that, in order to develop dedicated teachers, we had to recruit them when they were young and nurture and mentor them every step of the way.

We recruit our future teachers in the ninth grade from racially and culturally diverse and economically challenged high schools. I often get surprised looks from people who think the ninth grade is too young to decide on a career. But whether or not our recruits go on to become teachers--and most do--they receive individual attention and mentoring that will help them no matter what profession they choose to pursue.

Our teacher mentors work with our student recruits all the way through high school and prepare them for college work. We have enlisted colleges to contribute 50 percent of their college tuition and continue to mentor them all the way through college. Then we help them find placements in classrooms in their communities, where they can contribute not just to the achievements of their students but to the strength of their communities themselves.

Our rigorous process is not a passive one where the student gets all the help. Our high school participants become tutors for elementary school students, and our college participants continue to tutor in local schools. They become teachers by having the experience of teaching, with the help of an experienced teacher-mentor, every step of the way.

Our program currently serves over 600 high school and college students in three states including schools in the Bronx, Hudson Valley, and Greater Rochester region as well as in Connecticut and Virginia. We are looking to vastly expand our program throughout the five boroughs of New York with a mission to recruit African-American males.

Our program works. The national high school graduation rate for students of color is 78 percent. For our students, the rate is 90 percent. The national college graduation rate is 24 percent for students of color, but 70 percent of our program participants graduate.

Nationally, 33 percent of teachers leave the profession after three years, and 50 percent leave after five. Among those we work with at TSTT, a mere 7 percent leave after three years, and only 10 percent after five.

Our success is no secret. We offer warm, caring, enthusiastic personal interactions for each and every student through mentoring and intensive teacher training and classroom preparation for four years of high school and four years of college--and it does not end when they become teachers.

One of our first graduates was Emerly Martinez, who started with us as a sophomore at Ossining High School in 1995 and has now been teaching social studies there for ten years. He is offering the same support that he received to help close the achievement gap by creating a mentoring program for Latino male students and another to prevent freshmen from falling through the cracks.