Every time the three educators-in-training leave Denver’s Green Valley Elementary School, students ask when they will be back.
They invite the three men to basketball practice and games. The students get excited to see them during special events like Trunk-or-Treat — and not just because they give big handfuls of candy.
In short, Joshua Barringer, Christopher Livingston, and Jordan Puch have become very popular. That may be in part because Green Valley students — most of whom are Black and Hispanic — often don’t get to interact with Black male teachers like Barringer, Livingston, and Puch.
“They love us. They always want to come up to us and give us a hug,” Barringer said. “It’s just amazing how the kids click with us and we only got here but so long ago.”
The three educators are part of a program called Call Me MISTER, which stands for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models and helps train men of color, especially Black men, to become educators. The program began at several South Carolina colleges and universities in 2000, and its goal is to increase the pool of teachers from diverse backgrounds, which has long been a challenge for K-12 education — less than 2% of all teachers nationwide are Black men, for example.
Call Me MISTER now operates in 12 states and has over 500 graduates.
This year, Metropolitan State University of Denver brought the program to its school of education. The school, Colorado’s second-largest teacher preparation program, hired Associate Professor Rashad Anderson to run the program, and launched Call Me MISTER with undergraduates Barringer, Livingston, and Puch.
Although it’s started small, university leaders and Anderson plan on the school becoming a hub for the entire state to train more men of color from low-income backgrounds to become teachers. Research has indicated that students benefit from having “same-race role models” as teachers.
Livingston, 22, a senior studying elementary education, said he’s loved watching how well the kids respond to him and his instruction, especially students who haven’t responded as well to other teachers.
“Not every educator can reach some students, and that’s something that we really take pride in,” he said. “And they’re happy about it. I know they’re ready for more of us to be here.”
Jennifer Buckland, Green Valley principal said the first time the men visited, “It was like LeBron James walked into the building.”
Buckland’s students get to see the MISTERs twice a week as they train to become teachers. She said seeing people who look like them represented in classrooms not only helps students learn, but also helps them see their potential. She said if she could, she would hire them immediately.
“Our students should be able to walk in and see someone that looks like them,” Buckland said. “Our students should be able to walk in and have a conversation with them and be taught by someone that understands them — that makes them want to be the best that they can be.”
Helping get Metropolitan State University’s MISTERs program off the ground was a big step for Barringer, Livingston, and Puch. They transferred from South Carolina State University to help establish the program at MSU Denver’s campus, which is the furthest west the program has expanded.
Call Me MISTER started at Clemson University, as well as historically Black schools Morris College, Claflin University, and Benedict College.
Barringer, Livingston, and Puch get tuition support, a place to live, and money to buy books and pay for licensure exams. They also get hands-on experience at schools like Green Valley, mentoring, and a network that supports their professional development.
Helping Anderson start the program at MSU Denver took a leap of faith, they said. But they knew under his guidance they could make the program successful.
While they’re adjusting to the colder weather, the transition as student educators at Green Valley has been easy. The program has trained the MISTERs to be ready for whatever happens in the classroom, said Puch, 22, who is a senior majoring in elementary education.
“To come in with that confidence and with that background experience already, I’m at the point where this is a breeze. This is lovely,” Puch said. “I’m more than just a teacher. I’m more than just a Black man. I’m a nurturer, a humanistic practitioner. I’m a father figure.”
Anderson aleft South Carolina State University for MSU Denver after he saw an advertisement that said “Changemakers Wanted.” The ad called to him.
MSU Denver’s goal is to expand and serve the region through a Mile High MISTER program. He hopes other schools will sign on to the program and MSU Denver will act as a hub to train more educators of color and especially Black men. He wants 12 MISTERs by next school year and two other higher education institutions in Colorado to sign on.
Elizabeth Hinde, a professor and founding dean of MSU Denver’s school of education, said the program adds a valuable support tool to the school’s roster of programs, Hinde said. About half of all students within the education school are of color, she said.
“Although this is a program to support all students of color, Black men especially need support in ways that others don’t,” she said.
Anderson said Barringer, Livingston, and Puch deserve praise for believing in what the program can become in Colorado and the impact they can have on kids.
“The only way that you can describe these three are visionary leaders,” he said. “They are revolutionaries. … There are not a lot of young people like them to do what they did.”
Barringer, a 20-year-old secondary education major, said he’s seen how his life experiences have helped him connect with students. He grew up with a single mother and he’s connected with a student who is going through the same situation.
“That just let me know that my work is just beginning,” Barringer said.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.
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