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Addressing Underrepresentation in New York City’s Educators

CUNY has partnered with the Office of the Mayor and the New York City Department of Education in order to recruit minority males to join the field of education. PHOTO/ cuny.edu
CUNY has partnered with the Office of the Mayor and the New York City Department of Education in order to recruit minority males to join the field of education. PHOTO/ cuny.edu

By Muhammad Abdur Rahman

Published: May 10th, 2017

Russians, Jews, Hispanics, and Asians: it’s no secret that New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the country, reflected largely by the city’s immense variety of demographics in its public schools. Having said that, consider that despite the fact that 43 percent of NYC’s public school students are colored males, only 8.3 percent of NYC’s teaching workforce consist of colored males.

Presumably, the Mayor’s office was less than comfortable with this situation. Only one year into Bill de Blasio’s term, new provisions were erected to curtail this disparity. The Young Men’s Initiative was tasked with “addressing disparities faced by Black and Latino young men in New York City across the areas of education, employment, health, and justice,” according to the City of New York’s website. 

Now, under the Young Men’s Initiative’s umbrella, a new program was conceived: the NYC Men’s Teach program (NYCMT) looks to attract underrepresented students on campus by garnering their interest in teaching, providing opportunities to flesh out their teaching skills during organized events, supporting teaching candidates with resources necessary to earn their license, and potentially increasing the numbers of minority male teachers in NYC.

This program serves as the city’s response and hopeful solution to its lingering problem of underrepresentation. The NYCMT Program Manager at Brooklyn College, Shemeka Brathwaite, opened up her office to sit down and discuss how the program has fared thus far, two years into its lifecycle. 

According to Brathwaite, the NYCMT is available on most City University of New York (CUNY) colleges. It was conceived in January 2015 and has been available on campus since the Spring 2016 semester. Its main goal is to recruit and support 1,000 students to become future NYC educators until its expiration in 2018.

As of March 30, Brathwaite has successfully recruited 55 applicants via the program.

She emphasized that despite its intended purpose to mainly recruit its desired demographic, minority males, NYCMT does not discriminate based on age or gender. Curiously, of the 55 applicants enrolled in Brooklyn College, 52 were men and only 3 were women. Addressing this discrepancy, Braithwaite suggested it was a matter beyond her control or understanding, citing the equal opportunity disclaimer from the NYCMT website. However, a careful look at the layout of much of the NYCMT advertising, flyers, pamphlets, and website only indicates the equal opportunity clause as a footnote. 

Braithwaite explained how racial diversity amongst educators benefits students. “I would say that there is nothing to take away from what the women educators are doing; they’re doing a great job,” she said. “But there’s a lot of research behind being culturally responsive; if you are a young man in a classroom and you see another man of color educating you, it has an impact, not just as an educator but as a role model, as a mentor.”

Humphrey Tsui is a junior in the NYCMT program. In his reserved demeanor, Tsui shared the personal experiences that led him to considering a career in teaching, from his time in an all-boys school when he was inspired by his own teacher, to the times when his immigrant parents attempted to dissuade his interest in teaching, to the sense of accomplishment he felt after attending his first Men’s Teach event. “I feel like teaching kids and making a difference in people’s lives is in itself rewarding,” Tsui said.

According to Brown University, Cultural Responsive Teaching is a type of teaching that “acknowledges, responds to, and celebrates fundamental cultures [and] offers full, equitable access to education for students from all cultures.” In short, it exploits the added attention students would give to a teacher they could relate to and perhaps emulate. Alternatively, minority teachers can further promote diversity in their fields and thereby can benefit the students academically as well as boost their self-worth.

A considerable amount of research has been done on Cultural Responsive Teaching, and its benefits as a teaching method are clear. One such researcher, Geneva Gay, described the method as “a means for unleashing the higher learning potentials of ethnically diverse students by simultaneously cultivating their academic and psychosocial abilities.”

Despite the immense support found on Cultural Responsive Teaching, the program is due to expire in a year. With such uncertainty over its future, the question remains whether or not such an effort will have a lasting impact in achieving its goal of increasing the number of male teachers of minority backgrounds. “What it comes down to is what we need,” Brathwaite said.

“Ultimately we need more men of color in the field of education and here we’ve been doing great work.”

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