“I want you.” This was the tagline for the Uncle Sam poster of old encouraging men to enlist in the military as a sign of support of the U.S. entering war. In like manner, educators the world over are requesting the support of males, and in some cases African-American males, to further education efforts.
A recent study by the S.C. Department of Education reports that of the state’s more than 50,000 teachers, only 14,000 are African-American males, a mere 28 percent. Though it far exceeds the national average of 2 percent, educators in school districts like Lee County where the student body consists of more than 90 percent African-American say, having a teacher who reflects the demographics of the community is crucial.
Omar Mitchell is a fourth grade teacher at West Lee Elementary School (WLE). Like many other districts, Lee County School District (LCSD) has relied on the help of international teachers. Mitchell comes to the district by way of Jamaica. He’s earned certifications in electrical installation and teacher education, a bachelor’s of education in primary education and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s in theology. Mitchell is also well on his way to receiving certification in administrative leadership from the National College of Educational Leadership (Jamaica).
Administrators of LCSD say many of the international instructors come with a passion and fervor for the causes of those they serve. Mitchell is no exception.
“I believe that teaching has chosen me. I had always had my eyes on another profession that would have afforded me the opportunity to correct the wrongs in society,” says Mitchell. “However, destiny would have it that I will stop the wrongs at the tender youthful ages before they get to the wider society. Training up children in the right way that when they grow old, they will not depart from it.”
Raquel Brailsford, one of his students, says that is what he does each day – teach them something new. Recently, he taught her that “Pluto is a dwarf planet. They are not big like the sun, Jupiter and Neptune.”
Tomorrow, Brailsford says, it will be something else.
His lesson plans for the week are a well thought out 6-page assortment of preparation, execution and reflection about the Earth’s solar system. His delivery would never have indicated Mitchell should be anywhere but the classroom, though it was never his intention.
“I just couldn’t avoid it. Honestly, I tried, but it’s just an engagement with destiny,” says Mitchell. “From thence, I have grown to love the educational system and the opportunity to mold young lives into honorable men and women of society.”
He admits every system, including education, has both challenges and opportunities.
“Policies that govern the systems of old need to be amended to cater more to the holistic development of the student in this era,” says Mitchell. “The lack of discipline that is portrayed by our students continues to impact the teaching/learning process.”
Mitchell also believes there is more to be done to prevent teacher burn out.
“Teachers are overburdened with varying tasks that may also interfere with the (teaching/learning) process,” Mitchell says.
Though he does not offer a quick solution to the ails of the educational system, Mitchell is content with doing his part – answering the call to teach as an African-American male in a district along the I-95 Corridor of South Carolina.