Introducing the Male Educators of Color Initiative (MECI): Funded Teaching Preparation and Master’s Programs

by | Mar 29, 2024 | Academics, Featured

Applications for the Lurie College’s new Male Educators of Color Initiative fellowship close on April 15.

Teachers play pivotal roles in the way students of all backgrounds perceive their potential, says SJSU Associate Professor of Teacher Education Luis Poza, who started his career teaching elementary school in East Palo Alto and New York and later transitioning to his current role training future educators at the Connie L. Lurie College of Education. This spring, he takes on a new role: director of the Male Educators of Color Initiative (MECI), a program designed to provide aspiring educators who are committed to improving educational equity while diversifying the teaching workforce.

Luis Poza

Luis Poza, associate professor of teacher education, serves as the MECI program director. Photo by Brian Cheung-Dooley.

The program, which offers multiple tracks for educators interested in single-subject or multiple-subject credentials as well as master’s degrees, bilingual or special education authorizations, offers fully-funded opportunities for its inaugural cohort. Applications close on April 15. Poza answered a few questions about MECI for this Deep Dive in Five.

What is the Male Educators of Color Initiative?

Luis Poza (LP): The Male Educators of Color Initiative (MECI) is responding to a need in the field for a more diverse teacher workforce, one that more closely resembles the student body. This draws from a rich evidence base that shows that young men are often tracked away from education as a profession and away from people-forward, helping professions through some of the messaging they receive. 

We also know that a lot of young men have really tremendous potential to be powerful educators. The research evidence also tells us that it can be really important to have a mentor figure in the classroom for a lot of students to see themselves in that role. So, based on that stated need for a more diverse teacher workforce and building off that research evidence, MECI is an effort to incentivize more young men to go into teaching.

We recognize that some of the barriers that get in the way with men pursuing teaching careers are often a matter of cost — the cost of tuition, the cost of living in the Bay Area, as well as the opportunity cost of giving up a year of earning potential while one completes their student teaching. So we’ve partnered with certain philanthropic entities, notably the Sobrato Foundation, to raise funds to support candidates with tuition support and to provide them with a living stipend (which includes support for housing as well). We’re also capitalizing on some of the programs we already have, like our teacher residency partnerships, which are funded through a grant with the state. We’re hoping to bring candidates into these existing pathways that also lessen their financial burden.

In addition to pursuing their education, what do MECI fellows receive?

LP: Since this is our inaugural cohort, a lot of our attention is focused on recruitment and how many people we’re bringing into the pipeline, but the MECI program also accounts for retention. Recruitment is half the battle, but we do know from our stakeholders and district leadership that while we may bring in excellent teachers, it’s hard to keep them. They often leave the profession altogether or they move to higher paying districts.

We really want to support fellows not only to start their careers, but also to allow them to thrive within them for a long time. So while they are getting their credential, we hope to offer housing assistance and tuition support. Once they finish their credential and get placed as a full-time teacher of record, we hope to continue providing them with some form of housing assistance. We’re also providing fellows with financial counseling as part of their fellowship experience so they can build toward the eventual goal of home ownership. We want to help make it feasible for teachers to buy a home in the Bay Area.

We also layer on mentorship and community building, which we know is really important. Because there are very few men in teaching, especially in the elementary grades, it’s not uncommon for the men who do enter the profession to feel isolated or out of place. By bringing them together as a cohort and providing them with mentors, we are providing people who can help them develop their pedagogy and address personal and professional big picture questions. Mentorship will help a lot; we hope to nurture the community and keep that vision and commitment to the profession alive.

Why is it important to diversify the teacher workforce?

LP: Big picture, having a more diverse teacher workforce that more closely resembles the student body gives students a more realistic picture of the society that we’re living in. It helps students to see different people in these roles of authority and expertise in ways that offer an important counter to some of the deficit narratives and negative stereotypes that might exist about certain communities and that students themselves might internalize. 

In terms of young men of color, the research also shows that students of color working with teachers of color are less likely to be referred for special education, less likely to receive punitive discipline, and more likely to graduate and earn higher grades. A lot of this is tied to some of the implicit and unconscious biases that teachers might bring with them regarding students. Often teachers with a shared background with the students they serve might have a better understanding of certain behaviors, and also themselves remember the experience of being a student of color in a classroom. This makes them more aware of some of the dynamics that can happen sometimes, where schools inadvertently marginalize families or students. So the research shows that there are all kinds of benefits, especially for students of color, but really for all students, to have a more diverse teacher workforce.

Certainly, we hope that a more diverse teacher workforce can change some of the narratives that young men hear from very early on that maybe school is not for them. We really want to encourage and nurture their love of learning, whether or not that ends with them becoming teachers down the road. The Male Educators of Color Initiative intends to work with educators who can show them that teaching is a real viable career option and a profession that cares about them.

Do you have to identify as a male educator of color to be considered eligible?

LP: No. The initiative does not consider race, gender or any protected status in terms of who can participate in the program. We want people who are going to fight to dismantle the barriers that channel men, especially men of color, out of educational careers. Our priority is increasing the number of male educators of color in teaching because they are the least represented in the workforce.

We are particularly targeting the multiple subject candidates because that is where male educators of color are the least represented. We also recognize that young boys start getting messaging that pushes them out of careers in education very early on, so we see the elementary grades as a really high leverage point to change those discourses. But we’re also absolutely open to single subject credential candidates, too.

Why is this work meaningful to you?

LP: When I think about my time as a student, and some of the relationships I had with the male teachers who I saw as mentors, it mattered to me to have male teachers who could be honest with me. Those experiences as a student shaped who I am. 

From my time as an elementary school teacher, I saw how being myself in the classroom made the fathers of my students more comfortable attending school events, or for students to come to me with questions. That lived experience is a big driver for me.

Applications close for the inaugural MECI fellowship cohort on April 15. Learn more on the MECI website.