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Educators Strategize About Minority Teacher Recruitment at VEA Symposium

Getting more minorities, especially males, into the teaching profession is much more than just a numerical goal, says Dr. Robert W. Simmons III. It’s life-changing, both for them and for their students, so they’ve got to be the right people, there for the right reasons, and have the full backing of their school systems.

"Just because you have an African-American male at your school," said Simmons, president of Service Year Alliance, "you don’t make him Dean of Students in charge of the bad kids!"

Some 200 educators at VEA’s Underrepresented Male Educators Symposium burst into applause, as they did frequently during Simmons’ keynote speech, in which he told men entering the classroom that their mission is to nurture the hopes and dreams of their students: "You have to love the young people you work with every day, like they belong to you," he said, before adding with a laugh, "That doesn’t mean you can’t want to trade them in some days."

VEA held the symposium because, as presenter Dr. Denelle Wallace of Norfolk State University said, "There is a total disconnect between the student population and the teaching population." She’s right: In Virginia, the percentage of students of color is twice as high as the percentage of teachers of color.

"We need to figure out how to attract more African-American males into teaching," said Phillip Stamps, of the Danville Education Association, noting that many of the recruitment barriers discussed at the symposium, including societal stereotypes and cultural experiences, were ones he faced himself.

"Recruitment would improve if we reached them earlier," said Dr. Tony Atwater, a professor at Norfolk State University, "and helped them understand and realize their potential. We must help them develop a can-do attitude, not a can’t-do one."

Presenters at the conference pointed to research showing that students’ achievement increases when they’re taught by teachers who look like them, and called for wider recruitment of young men in the black community outside of schools, the encouragement of influential mentors, and letting African-American education majors know that it’s very possible to pick up additional certifications.

"We need African-American men as critical scholars and intellectuals in our schools," said Simmons. "Outside of the immediate family, teachers are the first counselors kids have."

To see photos of the symposium, visit

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