Men of Color in Education shared lessons about representation

April 9, 2021

(Clockwise from top left) Dr. Debra Brown, Oscar Ramos, Wesley Jones, Rod Garcia

(Clockwise from top left) Dr. Debra Brown, Oscar Ramos, Wesley Jones, Rod Garcia

By Walter Ryce

CSUMB’s Department of Education and Leadership and the Center for Black Student Success collaborated on an April 7 virtual panel discussion, Men of Color in Education, in an effort to encourage more men of color to consider going into the field of teaching and education.

The panel consisted of Rod Garcia who works as an educational administrator for computer science and digital learning at Monterey County Office of Education; Wesley Jones, a PE teacher for kindergarten through 4th grade at Bay View Academy; and Oscar Ramos, a teacher at Sherwood Elementary who’s been in education for 27 years.

After opening statements from Dr. Cathi Draper Rodriguez, interim dean of the College of Education, that provided context, Dr. Umi Vaughn, associate professor and director of the CBSS, introduced the panel moderator Dr. Debra Brown, Head of School for Mills College Children’s School.

She guided the panelists in a wide ranging discussion about issues such as stereotypes, representation, empathy and compassion in education. One of the panelists showed graphs that showed disparities in public elementary and secondary school teachers.

For the periods of 1999-2000 and 2017-18, the disparity has stayed the same or gotten more pronounced, with about 11% male teachers and 89% female teachers at the elementary level. Another slide showed that of elementary and secondary teachers, about 79% are white, 7% Black, 9% Hispanic, and 2% Asian.

Rod Garcia

Garcia identifies as Asian-American and said that he didn’t encounter a male teacher until he was in the 5th grade. He did not do well at school, in contradiction to prevailing stereotypes about students of Asian descent. Two teachers, in particular one named Mrs. Dunn, helped him overcome expectations about his relationship to school as well as his own family’s stigma about men in the teaching profession.

“I want to foster that type of environment for kids,” he said.

In his education career, there was a time when he was one of only two male teachers at a school site. He said he often gets classes now that are primarily “rambunctious” boys, but said that he can relate to them.

Wesley Jones

Jones, who is Black, grew up in the small town of Temple, Texas. He described his school years as challenging and difficult, beset by worries about eviction notices, the electricity being shut off, and having enough food to eat. He said education was not as valued as he thinks it could have been, both in his home or in his classroom.

When, as a student, his class was given an assignment to draw themselves 10 years into the future, Jones and other kids of color depicted themselves as sports figures. And that projection was not challenged by the teacher. He didn’t have educators that looked like him or could relate to his experience until the 7th grade.

“I want to be that positive Black role model for other kids,” he said.

He recalled encountering a child in a school in which Jones was working who stormed out of a classroom. When Jones asked what the problem was the student yelled “She [the teacher] doesn’t like me because I’m black!” But in talking through it, Jones surmised that the issue wasn’t racial, but a mismatch in life experience.

He said he tries to inform his teaching approach with “compassion, love and leadership.”

Oscar Ramos

Ramos grew up in the farming town of Hollister.

“My family and I worked out in the fields,” he said. “That was the expectation.”

He said that although he excelled at school, his first exposure to the concept of big universities was through Sports Illustrated’s college football issue. But he didn’t think it was a possibility for him to attend until his high school friends introduced him to a counselor, Mr. C, who pushed him to apply for college and financial aid. Ramos was eventually accepted to UC Berkeley.

Today he teaches 2nd grade kids in Salinas, many from farmworker families, whose lives he can relate to — and vice versa.

He knows from first-hand experience that their parents wake them at 4:30am to get them to a baby-sitter so the parents can go to work in the fields — thus the kids come to class sleepy. He knows that outside of peak harvest season, there is less money and less food in the families’ refrigerators, so the kids come to school hungrier. Because there may be no clear space to do homework (“some kids do it on an upside down laundry basket”) some kids turn in homework that is crumpled.

“I experienced the same thing,” he said. “Teachers who don’t understand, they might get mad if the kids ask for a second snack or are sleepy in class.”

He said that he shares his own background with the kids so that they are not afraid or ashamed to reveal what’s happening. He said that traditional values among Mexican and Mexican-American families can conflict with the educational aspirations of kids.

“My sister got accepted to college and my father was like ‘Oh no, you’re not going,’” Ramos said. He said expectations of girls might be that they stay at home and get married, and for boys that they start working early to help the family.

To start the kids’ trajectory to college, he said, “I do field trips to UC Berkeley at 3rd grade!”


The panel discussion ended with appeals and gratitude from Shawna Gannon, admission and recruitment counselor at CSUMB; Dr. Suzanne Garcia-Meteus, assistant professor and the director of M.I.E.L., and coordinator of the Bilingual Authorization Program; and Dr. Dennis Kombe, assistant professor and secondary education program coordinator.

For more information, visit CSUMB/edu/teach.