It's first down. The ball is on the 10-yard line. The Redskins and Bills are locked in a 0-0 tie. But the Bills can score if they complete the pass.
John "Scotty" Bowden barks out the signal: "The pilgrims came to America to blank blank blank."
"Oooh, I know this one," says eighth-grader Dean. "They came for freedom of religion."
High-fives and cheers all around. The Bills are up by seven, and 10 eighth-grade boys at Golden Ring Middle School in Baltimore County have learned a little more about the early colonization of North America.
A mock game of football is just one of many ways the boys learn in the classroom of the man they call "Mr. B."
While the number of black male teachers in school systems in and around the Baltimore metropolitan region is small, Mr. Bowden, 25, is even more of a rarity. He is one of a handful of black males teaching special education, or learning-disabled classes. And those classes have a disproportionate number of black male students.
"At the beginning of the year I looked around for other black men [in special education]," Mr. Bowden said. "I really couldn't find any. There may have been two."
But Mr. Bowden and 16 others aim to increase the number of black men in special education classes. The men are part of a joint program involving Baltimore County, Baltimore City and the Johns Hopkins University that gives college graduates who weren't originally trained as teachers a chance to pursue a master's degree in special education.
Mr. Bowden came to the program through Stephen C. Jones, coordinator of the Office of Minority Education for the Baltimore County school system. The county has developed a plan to boost minority participation and achievement by minority students and employees. The plan also calls for the recruitment of more minorities, especially black men.
"I got involved in the program in the summer of '90," Mr. Bowden said. "I had just graduated from Hampton University with a degree in marketing. And I was working at Macy's.
"My marketing degree was going nowhere. I didn't get a degree to work at Macy's. I went to college just to go. I never had a total interest in marketing. But I'd never thought about teaching either."
Yet once Mr. Bowden was introduced to the idea, everything just "clicked," he said.
"When I told my family and friends that I was thinking about going into teaching, they all said it was a good idea," he recalled.
Now, Mr. Bowden says, he goes to work excited, a word that never came to mind when he thought of a career in marketing.
"Now that I'm doing this I can't imagine doing anything else," Mr. Bowden said. "I really like the idea that I am here for all of my students, but especially the black students."
Often the very label of special education is enough to make a student
feel stigmatized, Mr. Bowden said.
"A lot of these kids don't feel good about themselves," he added. "They don't understand education is very important. They need somebody who'll lend a helping hand. They need someone in their corner."
Mr. Bowden said it's essential that school systems recruit more black male teachers -- for the benefit of all students.
"For a lot of these kids, they don't see any black males at home," Mr. Bowden said. "They really don't see any [in the schools]. Where are they going to see them? Where are the white kids going to see black men? Television. And often television only shows you one type of black man, the one these kids don't need to see.
"If the only type of guy these kids see is the guy with the gold chains and fancy car, then that's who they look up to. I want them to see that there are successful black men working legitimate jobs. I want them to see there are more of us than them."