By Dan Simmons
Alan Shoho is UWM’s School of Education dean, but that doesn’t mean he’s stopped learning himself.
One example: At the invitation of a friend, he recently attended services at St. Matthew’s Christian Methodist Episcopal church close to UWM’s campus. Seated among the largely African-American congregation and of Asian descent himself, the man raised in Hawaii felt slightly out of his comfort zone.
But Shoho learned much about the faith, values and lives of his fellow worshipers. It also reminded him about the importance of community and of feeling welcomed and embraced despite coming from a different background.
Shoho says he hopes to inspire others to take trips outside their comfort zone and help Milwaukee reach its potential as a diverse, collaborative city. It’s a crucial step toward one of his main goals: addressing the shortage of teachers of color who are ready to step into area classrooms.
Toward that end, he’ll lead a discussion involving school superintendents, principals, pastors and community volunteers framed around this theme: “Fostering Racial Relationships to Strengthen Communities and Schools: What Actionable Steps Can We Take Now?”
It happens Tuesday, Oct. 17, as part of the On The Table event sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. Shoho’s conversation will be one of many similar talks happening throughout the region on that day.
Each discussion aims to build bridges between people eager to take concrete steps toward a better Milwaukee. More than 2,500 people are registered to participate in On The Table, including 11 who will join Shoho at UWM for lunch. UWM officials will host several other conversations, too, as an On The Table super host.
Shoho’s area of concern is close to his heart. “I would like everyone leaving On The Table to commit to doing something,” he says, “even if it’s small, to strengthen our communities and schools.”
He thinks one of the best paths toward that reality is a bigger and sturdier pipeline of African-American, Latino and Asian teachers who graduate from UWM and serve in schools with high minority enrollments.
After becoming the School of Education’s dean in 2015, Shoho made a point of meeting with superintendents throughout the greater Milwaukee region. One request kept coming: Please, send us more teachers of color.
Those requests meet a hard reality when Shoho addresses each new class of UWM student teachers. Of about 150 students, he sees perhaps 10 who aren’t white, a startlingly low rate given the region’s demographic makeup.
It’s led to a full-throttle effort to recruit and retain students of color so they can get their education at UWM and get into classrooms to make a difference.
A teacher diversification effort has become a major part of M3 (pronounced M-cubed), the wide-ranging collaboration involving UWM, Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee Area Technical College. Publicly launched in January 2017, M3 has already garnered inspiration and ideas from Call Me Mister, a longstanding, state-funded program in South Carolina that encourages African-American men to teach in elementary schools.
Shoho and other M3 stakeholders hosted Call Me Mister representatives in April. Lessons learned from that meeting and other endeavors will go toward recruiting African-Americans, Latinos and Asians into the teaching ranks at all levels.
“I’m not aware of anyone who doesn’t recognize the need for more teachers of color,” Shoho says. Getting them there, and keeping them in the classroom longterm, is a more difficult challenge. But he knows from experience that success builds on success, and he intends to get it rolling.
“If kids see teachers who look like them,” Shoho says, “they see role models and think of becoming teachers themselves.”