From elementary school all the way through earning his Ph.d., Shawn Jackson saw almost no educator that looked like him.

“As I had a moment to reflect, I realized I’d only had one male teacher of color my entire academic career. And over the course of 15 years at CPS, a lot of my colleagues who were teachers, principals and so on had the same plight,” said the recently appointed president of Truman College.

His experience was the impetus for Men of Color in Education — a new partnership between City Colleges of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools and the city Department of Family & Support Services, seeking to draw that demographic into the field.

Maudlyne Ihejirika

Against a national teacher workforce shortage, and studies indicating teachers of color in the classroom can significantly lower the achievement gap, a recent report found the U.S. teacher workforce about 77 percent female and 80 percent white. It’s 9 percent Hispanic, 7 percent black.

Here in Illinois, the state’s school districts are 17 percent black and 27 percent Latino; yet blacks and Latinos are only 12 percent of the teacher workforce, according to the Illinois Report Card data.

“It’s kind of a lonely world to be a minority male in education, particularly in the elementary school space. Now I can actively do something about it,” said Jackson, who worked his way up at CPS from science teacher to principal then district office administrator before being tapped to lead Truman in May 2017.

The three-semester initiative, launching next summer, seeks initially to recruit 45 men of color from City Colleges, CPS and the community for coursework at Truman, internships and a mentoring component pairing them with 15 male educators of color within City Colleges and CPS.

The participants will comprise three cohorts of 15 each: City Colleges education students; CPS students in dual enrollment programs allowing free coursework at community colleges; and applicants from the community.

“For so long, we’ve looked for men of color in education, and they’re just not there. And in districts that have majority students of color, why shouldn’t they see people that represent them?” said Charles Anderson, principal of Michele Clark High, a mentor with City Colleges’ new Men Of Color In Education program. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times”

“I’m totally excited, because for so long, we’ve looked for men of color in education. They’re just not there, particularly elementary through high school,” said one of the 15 mentors, Charles Anderson, principal of Michele Clark High.

“And in districts that have majority students of color, why shouldn’t they see people that represent them?” said Anderson, whose own trajectory began with teaching at his alma mater, Westinghouse High. He then served as assistant principal at Manley and Team Englewood high schools, then principal at Beidler Elementary, before Michele Clark.

According to the nonprofit Teach for America, black male teachers make up just 2 percent of the teacher workforce, and confront barriers including lack of mentoring, professional development or career-advancement opportunities. They also wrestle with a greater sense of isolation as a result of often being the lone black male on staff, Teach for America found.

Approached by City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado about serving as Truman’s interim president, Jackson immediately proposed the initiative.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado and Truman College President Shawn Jackson at the unveiling of City Colleges’ new Men of Color in Education initiative, which seeks to draw more from that demographic into the field. | Photo/Vashon Jordan, Jr.

“The opportunity was created because of what’s in his heart. I deeply appreciate him for that leadership and for tapping his network of similarly inspired educational leaders,” said Salgado, who last month made Jackson’s position permanent.

“We couldn’t be more delighted by these mentors accepting our invitation to be a part of this effort,” Salgado said.

Applicants will be eligible for the city’s new Chicago Early Learning Workforce Scholarship, seeded with $2 million in April under outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s continuing focus on early education.

With the goal of filling the early-childhood workforce pipeline, the scholarships can be used not only at City Colleges but at schools like University of Illinois at Chicago, part of a larger nationwide network tackling the issue. Under the “Call Me MISTER” network, UIC this fall enrolled its first cohort of six Black and Latino males who have agreed to teach in CPS elementary schools.

“There are fewer and fewer students pursuing careers in education. In the United States, we have a teacher workforce that is 80 percent white for a student population that in the five big districts is 80 to 90 percent students of color. That’s a problem,” said CPS Chief Education Officer Latanya McDade.

“Our classrooms cannot continue to just be windows for students to see the world around them,” she said. “They also have to be mirrors.”

Research by the National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force finds “increasing the percentage of teachers of color in classrooms is connected directly to closing the achievement gap”; studies finding that, for black students, at least one black teacher in the classroom, particularly in third through fifth grades, corresponds with decreased likelihood of dropping out and increased likelihood of attending college.

“I only remember one male teacher of color growing up — Mr. Leavelle Abram, my math teacher at Hirsch. … And I’ve remembered him my whole life,” said Billy Hubbert, a student studying early education at Truman College who will be mentored through the Men of Color in Education program. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

“I only remember one male teacher of color growing up — Mr. Leavelle Abram, my math teacher at Hirsch,” said Truman education student Billy Hubbert, now part of the program’s City Colleges cohort.

“I had him for Algebra, Geometry, then Algebra Trig, which I took twice. When I tried to get out of something by telling him I’d taken the class before and passed, he said, ‘As long as you’re in here, you’re going to do the work,’ and threatened to call my mom,” Hubbert said.

“I did the work, and I’ve remembered him my whole life, always mentioning him when I talk about who got me to this point.”