Tampa Bay Times / Jeffrey Solochek / November 23, 2021
Growing up in Broward County, Triston Williams had his heart set on a sports-based future.
He played football at Miramar High, and considered himself an athlete. If he couldn’t keep playing, he said, he’d look to a career tied to the field.
“I’m sure everybody was surprised when I said I was going to be a teacher,” said Williams, a freshman at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus. “As we grow, mindsets change.”
This month, Williams became one of the first three students to enter USF’s Call Me MISTER program, a joint effort with the Pinellas County school district to bring more male teachers of color into local K-12 classrooms. The “MISTER” stands forMentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models.
Shauné Ferguson, the school district’s liaison to the program, said its benefits are clear.
“A student of color with just one Black teacher … is 50 percent more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college,” said Ferguson, a human resources recruiter who’s also president-elect of the Pinellas Alliance of Black School Educators.
The teachers are less prone to overdiscipline the students, she added, and more apt to recommend the students for advanced course work. Plus, they serve as a role model.
“We should be more intentional about making sure students feel welcome and included in the classroom,” Ferguson said.
Williams saw that need to guide children to a better future as key to his decision. He said his Uncle Dwayne showed him the difference a positive role model can make on a child’s life.
“Sometimes he would take me to an extremely impoverished area. He would have me giving out food to the people,” Williams recalled, noting he didn’t grow up in the best part of town himself. “One person was so grateful and so happy, he sat there for the rest of the day and helped us. … It was amazing to see you can really change people’s lives.”
As a teacher, he said, he would have the chance to make that positive impact on many young people. He wants to teach science to sixth and seventh graders.