JOHN YANG: This past week, employees from Los Angeles schools went on strike, demanding, among other things, staffing increases.
But teacher shortages are an issue beyond LA.
More than half of public schools report being understaffed, and bringing diversity into the classroom is a big part of that.
In the 2020-2021 school year, fewer than 2 percent of teachers were black men, while 61 percent were white women.
Earlier, I spoke with Mark Joseph of Call Me Mister, a program that aims to recruit and retain diverse students pursuing careers in education.
I asked him why there are so few black male teachers today.
MARK JOSEPH, Program Coordinator, Call Me Mister: I think part of it is there's a huge disconnect with many African American male students in terms of their fit in today's classrooms.
Many of them are in those spaces day in and day out.
They don't feel seen, they don't feel connected.
They just don't understand their role and heir place or really how school plays a significant impact in their lives moving forward.
And so that's why what we have been able to do as a program is to take those same experiences that they've had during that K 12 journey and address those things in a kind of way to where, we can emphasize leadership, we can emphasize relationships, and we can emphasize development in terms of being.
able to go back to serve in those spaces that you didn't see yourself leading at one point in time.
JOHN YANG: How much of this is a vicious cycle?
You talk about young black students not feeling seen, not feeling involved.
How much would it help to have teachers who look like them at the head of the classroom?
MARK JOSEPH: Yes, I think it's extremely important and we all know and understand.
There's no magic potion that we could take, and there's no magic pill.
The reality is that those same African American males that everyone says they're looking for, we know and understand that they sit in our classrooms day in and day out.
However, the reality is, how do we tap into their potential so that these same individuals can then return into those classroom spaces, leading those classrooms, instructing those classrooms, really connecting to students in a way that only they could do it.
JOHN YANG: Lately, we've been seeing the public schools become the battleground for the culture wars.
Do you think that might lead or discourage some black men from going back as teachers?
MARK JOSEPH: I believe so.
You know, education as we now know it and understand has really taken a significant hit in the public's eye.
And so the natural understanding is, why would I want to go into that space?
If all I'm hearing about education and being a teacher is so negative.
Why would I find myself in that particular position?
One of the things that we try to do and live by, how do we change the narrative of what it means to be an educator in this day and age?
Because truthfully, we realize the challenges.
We realize the hardships that may encounter being an educator.
But the truth of the matter is, what generation didn't encounter some level of challenge and cause of the commitment of the previous generation it has given us an opportunity to do what we're passionate about today.
It has given us an opportunity to serve our communities, our schools, and most importantly, our young people in a way that it will benefit them to be able to move forward in our society.
JOHN YANG: Tell me specifically what is Call Me Mister doing to try to achieve all these goals?
MARK JOSEPH: Our program is designed to address retention, recruitment and development.
And so when we look at it on the recruitment end, we know that we can't just recruit individuals into the profession the same old way that we've done many years before.
We've learned how to leverage and use our stories and the stories of many of the educators that have gone through this program to really connect to the students that we try to recruit.
The retention piece is so critical as well because it makes no sense to bring individuals into the program and you can't retain them.
It's an opportunity and an experience where young African American males get an opportunity to work together.
They get to go to classes together.
They get to study together.
You get to do it with a cohort of individuals, with that same fire, with that same passion and with that same love of being an educator and serving our young people.
And then the last component the developmental stages.
We do know and understand that in order to become that effective teacher, we have to put our individuals through a developmental process.
And all students deserve an effective educator.
An educator that's willing to see them and an educator that's willing to move them forward.
An educator that's willing to create new experiences and opportunities, not just for one type of students, but all students in that classroom environment.
That's the mission of our program to recruit, to retain, and to develop and to place these individuals into our classrooms today.
JOHN YANG: Mark Joseph of Call Me Mister.
Thank you very much.
MARK JOSEPH: Thank you.