Where are minority male teachers?

By Elmer Smith - Philadelphia Daily News

YOU COULD always tell when the VIPS were on campus. They drove newer cars, wore softer clothes.

It was easy to spot them among the denim-clad, recent high-school grads who made up most of the male student population on Temple's main campus in the '70s.

Veterans in Public Service or Veterans in Public Schools, to name their program for its mission, offered former Vietnam-era veterans a substantial stipend, free tuition and a generous book allowance.

In return, they were expected to graduate and take jobs as teachers. There were other inducements if they chose elementary schools, especially inner-city public elementary schools.

Seemed like a slick hustle, to the rest of us, a way for the VIPS to get paid for going to school. But in districts that had trouble recruiting and retaining men, it was worth every penny.

This was 35 years ago when male teachers and black teachers were more common than they are today.

In the School District of Philadelphia, male teachers represent 26 percent of the teaching staff. Fewer than 6% of the district's 12,000 teachers are men of color.

That's a problem. It's a problem even though most minority males can and do learn effectively in classes run by well-trained and caring white teachers.

I don't look for scapegoats. I don't blame the relatively poor performance of minority males on the female-dominated culture in public schools. But in a district where nearly half of the minority males drop out by the 11th grade, the absence of positive male role models is almost certainly a factor in their failure.

Most Philadelphia public school children are in middle school before they ever see a minority male teacher.

It's a culture that tells minority males that this is not a place for people like you. If it sounds like I'm going out of my way to find a race issue, ask yourself this question: How many white parents would send their child to a school with few or no white teachers?

Enlightened educators understand the value of a teaching staff that looks like the student body. But it's harder than ever to build a staff like that in an inner-city school district.

"There is a variety of reasons for the decline in the number of minority teachers, especially male," School Reform Commissioner Sandra Dungee Glenn said.

"But since I came on board in 2000, I know we've been trying hard to create a race and gender balance. There is something positive that comes with a racial affinity. Too few of our children have a positive male role model. It's a void we have to do something about."

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