Counter to culture
One Clemson professor believes we can change the culture of failure. And he has the MISTERs to prove it.
Roy Jones knows firsthand that no one succeeds alone. And he knows that creating opportunity for young men who may be overlooked or “written off” makes a world of difference in their lives and, in turn, can influence hundreds or even thousands of others. That’s the principle behind Call Me MISTER® (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models). MISTER works to put well-prepared teachers in classrooms, chiefly under-achieving elementary classrooms.
That’s the short description. But Call Me MISTER is so much more.
“MISTER is not a ‘program,’” says Jones, “MISTER is a lifestyle. It is changing the destiny of young men who then enter the classroom, modeling that attitude of success and transforming the students they teach. Just as we touch the hearts and minds of the MISTERs, they reach students as only they can.”
This fall, 17 MISTERs began their four-year training at Clemson, joined by approximately 400 young men in colleges across South Carolina and in six other states.
“The pool of talent and ability is definitely here,” says Jones, “we just need to tap it and get the talent back out into our communities. The young person someone might perceive as a troublemaker may be exhibiting the strong leadership qualities that could take him to the top of the teaching profession. He needs to know his potential to be a star, to influence others. Call Me MISTER does that. I believe we should meet community challenges through members of that community.”
The young men who are accepted as MISTERs are beginning a four-year commitment at Clemson and a much longer commitment to educating children. While at the University, mentors teach the men to understand their own potential, to become selfless in their service to students. As Jones says, “MISTERs must transform themselves in order to be able to transform others.”
As a young man, Jones experienced the benefit of an opportunity that changed the trajectory of his life when professors from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, visited his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, and told him that there were scholarships and opportunities at the university. No one in his family had ever attended college before. And until the professors’ visit, Jones remembers, “I had two choices out of high school: get a job or go into the Army. Staying in my parent’s house and doing nothing was not an option.”
Jones chose the university and found his calling in education. Later, as Director of Employment for Charleston School District, he was dismayed at the shortage of outstanding applicants. Today, he is hard at work trying to rectify that problem. “I think of our MISTERS as ‘homegrown,’ ” explains Jones. “They come from our communities, and they give back to the state in service as fully certified teachers.”
The figures show the MISTERs’ impact on our state. Of the MISTERs who first graduated from the Clemson initiative in 2004, 100 percent are still active in education right here in the state. And Call Me MISTER boasts 100 percent job placement for its graduates, a figure that shows the state’s desperate need for leaders of this caliber.
Calls come in regularly to Jones from other universities and colleges wanting to establish Call Me MISTER programs of their own. But while meeting the requests to take Call Me MISTER nationwide would be ideal, Jones concentrates on the substance and quality that makes MISTER a model of permanent change, not the number of efforts he can point to across the country. It takes resources to build successfully and a number of partners — both public and private sector — have seen the success and lent their support.
But as Jones clearly knows, “Fads won’t change the outcomes of struggling students in our elementary schools, but MISTERs will.”
Developing the one-on-one relationship and meeting the challenge — Head On.