Call Me Mister
Dr. Deneese Jones
Dean of the College of Education and Human Services
There are 93,000 public schoolteachers in this Commonwealth; only 600 of them are African-American men. In 2007, Longwood University will address this issue, becoming the flagship institution for the "Call Me MISTER" program in Virginia.
Students need to see the diversity of our society reflected in the classroom. Sending them out into the world without exposure to a wide range of adult authority figures is a detriment to their ability to function in a complex global community. Each teacher puts his or her unique stamp on the classroom, but the best way to ensure that students experience a variety of teaching styles and means of interaction is to surround them with a variety of teachers – different genders, different levels of experience, different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Longwood’s Call Me MISTER program will step up to this challenge by bringing more African-American male teachers into Virginia’s classrooms. Call Me MISTER aims to recruit, train, certify and secure employment for young African-American men as public elementary schoolteachers. The program originated in 1999 in South Carolina as a partnership of Clemson University and several colleges that have historically served African-Americans. Its name refers to Sidney Poitier’s famous line "They call me Mister Tibbs," from the movie "In the Heat of the Night."
Call Me MISTER is designed to develop high-quality, effective teachers who are going to meet the needs of all their students. The young men of the program called MISTERs – are taught to be leaders first and teachers second. According to Dr. Roy Jones, director of the Clemson-based Call Me MISTER program, teaching has not been a career that black boys have seen as an option for decades. Call Me MISTER aims to change this by providing financial, academic, and emotional support for the young men going through the program. However, it is the policy of Longwood University that no person shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or, in any way be subjected to discrimination in any program or activity of the University. Participation in the Call Me MISTER Program is open to anybody, regardless of race or gender, if they are capable of facilitating the achievement of its objectives.
In Virginia, Longwood University’s College of Education and Human Services will coordinate the Call Me MISTER program in collaboration with the Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences, supporting MISTERs as they work toward a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies (e.g., elementary, middle) or K-12 Physical Education. Key tenets of the Call Me MISTER program include a summer internship experience to induct new recruits from high schools and community colleges, tuition and academic assistance to young men enrolled in elementary education certification programs, and a social and cultural peer support system.
Southside Virginia Community College in Keysville, and Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, along with Prince Edward County Public Schools and Cumberland County Public Schools, will partner with Longwood for the Call Me MISTER program. Currently undergoing fundraising and administrative efforts, the program will begin recruiting students in the spring and summer of 2007. The first MISTERs will enroll in fall 2007. Over the course of the program, Longwood’s objective is to identify, recruit, and certify 100 black males to serve as elementary schoolteachers in Virginia.
Longwood University is a uniquely appropriate venue for Call Me MISTER. While Longwood has expanded far beyond its foundation as a teaching college, the College of Education and Human Services remains well known and respected for the quality of its educator instruction and preparation. Longwood’s imprint extends across Virginia, where graduates can be found serving as teachers and administrators in every public school system as well as many private institutions.
Longwood’s stewardship of Call Me MISTER also centers the program in an underserved, rural region of the state where there is a high level of poverty. Prince Edward County is the economic hub of the region, but its county school system still exhibits the outcome of Massive Resistance -- the county’s decision to close public schools in 1959 for five years to defy the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court rulings regarding desegregation. It is fitting that Call Me MISTER, a program dedicated to increasing the diversity and enhancing the richness of students’ experiences, initiate in this particular county. A contentious part of the area’s history will continue yielding to a future bright with opportunity.
Call Me MISTER has the potential to make a difference in Virginia. All we ask from the Commonwealth is one thing: Send us your best and brightest. If you know a young African-American man with great potential and a desire to make a difference, encourage him to apply for the Call Me MISTER program. Our MISTERs will be empowered to change others’ lives – and their own. We look forward to giving them that opportunity.
Editor’s Note: This op-ed piece, written by Longwood’s Dr. Deneese Jones, Dean of the College of Education and Human Services, was published originally in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Tuesday, September 5, 2006.
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