Men of color find purpose, fulfillment teaching in New York City classrooms

NEW YORK — Even as the school year winds down, teachers and students in New York City classrooms are still faced with some overwhelming challenges every day.

But a recent study found having more men of color as teachers can mitigate at least some of those challenges, and even help keep kids in school.

CBS2’s Maurice DuBois got to see first-hand what the future might hold for some of these students, after meeting a few of the next generation of teachers.

First grade was in session at P.S. 181 in Brooklyn. Guiding their lesson was Kadeem Hector.

“What do you tell someone who’s thinking about doing this for a living?” DuBois asked.

“Oh my God, I say go for it,” Hector said. “If you can give a kid the energy that I give every single day, go for it.”

Hector just graduated from CUNY’s NYC Men Teach program. It was started in 2015, designed specifically to get more young men of color on the teaching track and into classrooms. He said helping his mom raise his younger brother gave him inspiration.

“When they see a Black man in the classroom, how much does that mean?” DuBois asked.

“It means a lot,” Hector said. “When they ask me questions, I know it’s because, like, they feel a definite connection to me.”

“How’s that make you feel?” DuBois asked.

“I feel like I’m living in my purpose,” Hector said.

Nationwide, just 2% of K-12 classrooms are led by Black male teachers, but here in New York, William Anders, university director for NYC Men Teach, says the local statistics tell a different story.

“The hiring rate for men of color in 2015 was 8% in New York City,” he said.

“And what’s it now?” DuBois asked.

“We are currently hovering 17%,” Anders said.

CUNY Chancellor Félix Rodriguez says the success of the program is also reflected in the retention rate.

“Over 95% of them stay after the first year and 80% of them stay after five years, so it’s a great investment for the city of New York,” he said.

Rodriguez is leading by example as the first Latino man to head the 175-year-old education institution.

“You keep opening doors for those who come after you,” he said.

Data from Johns Hopkins University shows that if students of color have a teacher of color in grades 3-5, their dropout rate before graduation can be reduced by up to 39%.

“You’re more like to stay in school, you’re more likely to be engaged in school, you’re more likely to enjoy school, all these different things are so positive just by your presence,” DuBois said.

“I’m hopeful that they have this memory. And if they’re on the cusp of not going to school anymore, they remember me,” Hector said.

The Teacher Opportunity Corp is a program at Teachers College at Columbia, also designed to increase the number of teachers from under-represented backgrounds. Jason Flowers is a recent graduate, teaching music.

“I think when my students look at me, they see something that they can relate to, they see opportunity,” he said.

Darius Phelps is pursuing a PhD in English Education at Teachers College.

“For some of these kids, you’re more than just a teacher. You’re a dad, you’re their older brother, you’re their best friend. And for me, that’s the most fulfilling part, too,” he said.

Back at P.S. 181, Hector has been offered a full-time position next September, sure to make 7-year-old students Taylor and Nathanial happy.

“Mr. Hector, does he care about you guys?” DuBois asked.

“Yes, he does,” Taylor said.

“How do you know?” DuBois asked.

“Because he always has, like, a smile,” Taylor said.

“One time I was walking home and I saw him and he gave me a big smile,” Nathanial said.

CUNY says they have solid support system in place to keep students on track, from peer counseling to financial assistance to even helping out with MetroCards for students who need just that extra bit of help.

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