Teacher works to recruit more Black male teachers

Pre-K students Dior Thomas (left), 5, and Andrea Medina-Espericueta, 5, work with teacher Johnathon Hines during playtime at Barack H. Obama Elementary Magnet School of Technology on Tuesday, Feb 14, 2023. (Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Pre-K students Dior Thomas (left), 5, and Andrea Medina-Espericueta, 5, work with teacher Johnathon Hines during playtime at Barack H. Obama Elementary Magnet School of Technology on Tuesday, Feb 14, 2023. (Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Correction: An earlier version of this article attributed a quote from Ivan Douglas to another source.

When Johnathon Hines decided to be an educator, teaching a classroom full of 4-year-olds wasn’t what he had in mind.

Hines, a former college basketball star, had just returned to Decatur from playing professionally abroad when he decided to become a physical education teacher for middle and high school students. However, when there weren’t any physical education positions available, he took the next best thing — a job as a paraprofessional in a pre-K classroom.

While he originally planned to use the position as a starting point, Hines found his calling in working with young children. He got his master’s degree to become a pre-K teacher, and in 2019 was named Georgia’s Pre-K Teacher of the Year — making him the first African American man to receive the honor.

Hines continues to work in the classroom, at the Barack H. Obama Elementary Magnet School of Technology in DeKalb County, but has more recently set his mind to recruiting other Black men into early childhood education as an ambassador for a program called the Leading Men Fellowship.

“I think (hearing about my career path) is a good opportunity for the fellows to see the great things that happen in the classroom,” Hines said. “I didn’t have that person I could look towards because there were not many men in the pre-K classroom space.”

The Leading Men Fellowship seeks to address the lack of Black male teachers by selecting and placing Black men who have recently graduated from high school in pre-K classrooms across the country, including in metro Atlanta. Many fellows work toward college degrees during or shortly after they’re a part of the fellowship, and others receive training to become school paraprofessionals.

The lack of racial diversity among teachers is well documented. Just 2% of U.S. teachers are Black men, according to research by the Stanford Graduate School of Education. In Georgia, about 25% of educators during the 2017-2018 school year, the most recent data available, identify as Black, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The same data shows about 24% of public school teachers identify as male. In Georgia, 36.5% of public school students are Black, according to state data.

Research has shown that all students benefit from teachers of diverse backgrounds. A December 2021 study conducted by University of Maryland associate professor David Blazar found that students with diverse teachers were more engaged in the classroom and scored higher on end-of-year math and language arts tests.

Hines became involved in the Leading Men Fellows program after the program contacted him last year to speak at an event about Black men in education. Hines also spent time with some of the fellows during a few training events.

Ivan Douglas, national director of The Literacy Lab’s Leading Men Fellowship, recalled Hines instantly connected with the group, inspiring organizers to elevate him to a national role to recruit potential fellows. He began his role as a National Education Ambassador in January.

In his role, Hines travels to events across the country to promote the program. He also works with regional program management teams to connect with young men, and promotes current fellows’ work and achievements in the classroom on his social media profiles.

When recruiting fellows, Hines focuses on his unexpected journey to the pre-K classroom, and the tangible impact he’s had on his students.

Hines said he is enthusiastic about the program because of its potential to bring mentorship and representation into the classroom for young Black children. He also hopes the fellowship will get men who may not have otherwise considered teaching young children to pursue it as a career.

Dorian Britt, a fellow at M. Agnes Jones Elementary School in Atlanta, is studying psychology at Georgia State University. He knew he wanted to help others, but prior to the fellowship, he hadn’t worked with young children. He said seeing the positive influence his presence had over his students convinced him this was where he wanted to be.

“(The students) don’t have a lot of representation of what it is to be Black and successful, and so I feel as though putting more Black educators into schools would help add to that representation out there, that positive image of the Black male,” Britt said.

Hines echoed that sentiment, putting particular emphasis on showing examples of successful African American men to young children.

“A lot of time, our young males and females don’t really see a Black male in the school setting, and especially in pre-K,” Hines said. “So just having that big hero that they can come into the classroom and talk to, and get advice from, and play with I think is extremely impactful.”

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