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Memphis-based Man Up Program Celebrating Producing More Than a Hundred Black Male Teachers In Four Years

Black men make up roughly 2 percent of teachers in the classroom, but a Memphis-based program designed to get more Black men in the classroom is paying off as it celebrates producing more than a hundred Black male teachers within four years.

“I started teaching when I was 21, and I’ve done it all, from teacher to superintendent to founder of a charter school,” said Patrick Washington, founder of the Man Up program.

Washington is a fifth-generation educator, and he founded the Memphis-based, Man Up program that began in 2018 and designed a pipeline to attract Black men into teaching, paying for them to earn education degrees and teaching certifications and mentoring them once in the classroom to become successful teachers.

“We have an over 93 percent retention rate, and our fellows point directly to the fact that these guys are connected to other brothers who are going through with them and brothers who have gotten through and are thriving in the field who are helping them get through some of the difficulties when they’re going through these school spaces who are predominantly white-female run,” said Washington.

The Man Up program has set an ambitious goal to boost the number of Black male teachers from 2 percent up to 5 percent. So far, within four years, it has managed to create more than a hundred Black male teachers.

“In 2018, we started with ten and this weekend we’ve reached a major milestone of reaching over a hundred guys and we’ve paid for all of them to get their master’s degree or certification,” Washington said.

Prospective Black male teachers interested in the Man Up program, apply, and go through an interview process and complete a teaching demonstration before officially getting into the program with access to mentors, scholarships and a pathway to education degrees.

The program is funded by individual donors and partnerships with teacher certification exam makers like Praxis. The program also tackles some of the top reasons why attracting and retaining Black men as teacher is so difficult.

“There are three reasons why men in general don’t go into education — low pay, low status and fear of false accusations — and our work is about mitigating those factors and creating a true pipeline,” Washington said.

 One of the teachers in the Man Up program is Hashim Jones, 31, of Memphis, Tennessee. Jones says he always flirted with the idea of becoming a teacher growing up, but it wasn’t until he worked at a juvenile detention facility where he saw young Black boys come through, many of them were on a path to prison. “How can I change that narrative,” Jones asked himself, which brought him back to the idea of becoming a teacher.

Jones has been teaching for eight years, and he is currently teaching fourth and fifth graders in math and science at a predominantly Black elementary school in Memphis. He says the weight of being one of very few Black male teachers always stuck with him.

“A lot of times when you are the only Black male on staff, you’re automatically the disciplinarian for the entire grade by default, and I was tired of it,” Jones lamented.

Jones perspective towards his craft got a fresh look once he discovered the Man Up program last year.

“It was great to see people that looked like me that shared the same burden, that shared the same frustrations, shared the same joys, shared the same happiness, so that personally did a lot for me to know I’m not going through this alone,” Jones said.

Jones says the sense of connection with fellow Black men in education helped reignite his passion and purpose for becoming an educator.

“Everything that you do matters, everything that you do has to be purposeful, when you’re in the building everything you do has to be a reflection of what you want them to be,” Jones said.

Women make up most people working at kindergarten through 12th grade schoolteachers, in fact, women make up 76 percent and nearly 80 percent of teachers in the United States are white according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Only 7 percent of teachers in the U.S. are Black and Black males make up only 2 percent.

Washington points to the short and long-term benefits for Black students if they manage to get a Black male teacher.

“For Black students in general who have a Black teacher, it decreased their likelihood of dropping out by 29 percent and for Black boys, 32 percent,” Washington said. “There are other studies that shows, when Black boys have male teachers of color it increases their chances of going to college,” he continued.

Although the Man Up program is producing Black male teachers at a solid rate, Washington wants to see more programs across the country specifically targeted to attract, retain and support more Black men to lead the classroom.

“There are brothers out there who wants to do the work, so maybe it’s not an absence in folks who are interested, maybe it’s an absence of our real interest in getting them,” Washington said.

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