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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Male Call: Recruiting More Men to Teach Elementary School

Stereotypes and low pay keep men away from teaching. But that Y chromosome can make a huge difference in the classroom.
By Tamar Snyder

Public schools are searching for a few good men -- male teachers, that is. Men accounted for less than one-fourth of all teachers in 2006, according to statistics released recently by the National Education Association (NEA), and there is little indication of that figure changing anytime soon.

Although education has historically been a predominantly female field, the number of male public school teachers in the United States hit a forty-year low that year. Kansas and Oregon boast the largest percentages of male teachers, at 33 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Mississippi and Arkansas have the lowest percentage, with males making up just under 18 percent of the teachers in those states.

"We're experiencing a significant male-teacher shortage," confirms Reg Weaver, president of the NEA. The shortage is particularly acute in early-childhood and lower grades, and the reason is partly pay related. "Teachers in elementary school typically don't make as much money as teachers in high school do," Weaver says. "More than 50 percent of male teachers are at the high school level."

Research conducted by MenTeach, a nonprofit organization that promotes the recruitment of male teachers, suggests that low status and pay deter males from entering education. "If you started paying teachers $150,000 per year, you'd see a lot of guys going into the field," admits Bryan Nelson, founder of MenTeach. Other key reasons behind the male-teacher shortage, according to MenTeach, is the stereotype that teaching is "women's work," as well as possible fears of lawsuits around accusations of sexual abuse of children.

To attract more male teachers, heavy recruiting at the university level is necessary, says Steve Peha, president of Teaching That Makes Sense, an education-consulting company. "We won't see more male teachers if we don't see more young men pursuing teaching degrees," he notes.

One of the more prominent recruitment programs is Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models), which provides tuition assistance and leadership training to male African American students pursuing education degrees. When the 150 participants in the program, which originated at South Carolina's Clemson University, finally start working, they will double the number of black men teaching in the state's elementary schools. The program has ten participating colleges throughout the state, and two other colleges in Pennsylvania and Virginia are replicating it.

Still, according to Peha, a coordinated effort to recruit male teachers is lacking, in part because some education experts remain unconvinced about the added value male teachers bring to the classroom. "If we want more men in the classroom, we'll need to see some data about the benefits of a gender-balanced corps," he notes.

Research studies focusing on whether male teachers help boys learn better have provided contradictory results. But a majority of male teachers interviewed confessed to serving a dual role in the classroom as both educator and role model, especially in low-income districts with single-parent homes that typically lack a male influence. "Some kids connect better with male teachers," says teacher Dan Brown, who chronicled his year at the Bronx's PS 85 as a NYC Teaching Fellow in his book The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle.

In some cases, others at the school ask male teachers to play disciplinarian. "A lot of female teachers would come to me if they had a disciplinary problem -- mainly with boys -- and ask me to handle it," says Alan Flory, a retired special education teacher with twenty-eight years of experience. "I didn't particularly appreciate it, but I did it."

Flory believes that though males tend to be structured in what they do, they are more willing to use creative means to engage students. He now trains female teachers to use music in teaching as he did; for example, he brought a guitar into class on Fridays as a reward for good behavior. "I'd make up rhymes for vowel sounds and to help the kids learn math," he explains. "The kids really enjoyed that."

Brian Hendrickson, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Hillcrest Middle School, in Trumbull, Connecticut, polled his students to find out how they feel their male teachers differed from their female teachers. The results: Male teachers tend to use sports analogies, such as "Standardized tests are the Super Bowl of knowledge." They are more tolerant of chitchat and are more likely to integrate active learning methods, including competitions and games, into the curriculum. They also tend to be funnier, the informal poll suggested.

"Men tend to give more direction in their approach to sharing knowledge," says Stephen Jones, a longtime educator and the author of Seven Secrets of How to Study. "They want to appear to be the expert." Women, on the other hand, are more likely to collaborate with students and incorporate their ideas, Jones says. "Therefore, men who are teaching mixed classes must incorporate collaborative and direct instruction to meet the needs of all students." Meeting the needs of all students? That sounds like a great educational environment.

Tamar Snyder is a writer in New York City who specializes in education, personal finance, and careers.

Comments (38)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Rose's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I feel lucky to have had male teachers my 4th, 5th and 6th grade year. I remember those teachers fondly and felt like I was taught well. It sounds like this experience is not the norm. I think it is just as important for girls to have male teacher role models as it is for boys.

Now my family lives in a small rural town where the K-3 school has no males in it at all--the principal is female too. I wish my five sons could see a man teacher in their primary years. I'm sure more males don't go into teaching because they don't see other men in those positions.

ChiGuy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In response to Teacherman:
I am a male teacher also. I also thought that it would help in meeting women. However, it is a double-edged sword. Some women do appreciate that, they see that you can be sensitive, good with kids, etc.
However, others look at it the other way. They think you must not be very "masculine." Worse, they know that they will probably always outearn you. That is not a problem for me, but apparently it is for many women, teachers or not!
However, I stick with what I know is right, that is being true to myself and what I want to do, and that is to teach! I knew from the beginning that I was not going into this field to make much money, much less to be macho!
So I'm happy teaching. Ten years, not even close to burnout!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As as a female teacher that has been teaching for 10 years, I agree and disagree that male teachers are the answers. I believe that if the teacher is a great teacher then they will have a profound affect on any student, whether male of female. I worked at the elementary level for six years before moving up to middle school. The male teachers at the elementary level were superb. However, now that I have taught middle school for three years, I have to say that many of the male teachers are horrible. They have no classroom management and are unable to relate to the students (male and female). Many of my male students hate going to the male teachers classroom and prefer to stay in mine. What I found interesting is that the article mentioned that men are creative and tend to use sports as an analogy. I felt that he described my classroom to a tee and I am not male or butch. I grew up a tom boy because of three older brothers and am able to relate to boys. We talk about sports, and I even introduce my girls to sports (if they are not already interested). I do believe that we need good male teachers at our schools, but don't underestimate female teachers and the impact we can have on male students.

Paul P.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There are advantages (how significant depends on your POV)for either sex employed as teachers. However, first and formeost as a profession it is about being an effective teacher, which does not hinge on gender.

A bit like saying a mother is better than father (overall) at raising children. Look up the statistics for the number of women that are currently incarcerated and you would be shocked. Neither is better because of gender but better because they care and are mindful of the responsibility and commitment it takes.

The simple fact is that kids should be exposed to a more equitable balance in gender of their teachers and if men provide a positive role model then that is a bonus.

A more important question is should we be looking at single sex classes with gender specific teachers. Now there is something worth more research.

JPG III's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a student,training to be a preschool/kindergarten teacher. As an aspiring male teacher, I know I'll be rare, but even though I'll be different from most other teachers in the country. I hope to be able to break the gender boundary and convince some of my students male and female to become teachers.
We need more GOOD teachers not necessarly just MALE teachers.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that being a male will help your students have a positive male role model in their lives. So many of my students don't have any idea what it's like to spend time with a father. I see the way my students admire their male PE coach because I know he is someone that the children look up to. I agree with what you said about needing good teachers as well. It shouldn't matter if teachers are male or female, but they should be competent and inspiring in the classroom.

Nicole's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a substitute teacher, and having subbed for both male and female teachers, I can truly say that I have seen the differences in the styles of teaching. Just by reading the lesson plans left behind, in my experiences, men do have a tendency to be more laid back and "whatever you get to you get to" type of attitude. Whereas female teachers tend to leave "extra" work to make sure that their students are always busy. I do believe that we need more male teachers in today's elementary classrooms because they can be such a strong and positive role model and in many broken families, the children thrive on that. At the same time, the teacher needs to WANT to be in the classroom. They need to be an inspiring, uplifted and motivated role model, and that should not matter if you are male or female!

Dave's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I retired out of the military, Navy, in the engineering field and decided to go into teaching. I was hired into an Elementary school where I have been for the last four years. I am continually surprised and shocked at the attitude of my peers towards teaching and towards their students. From my perspective of the profession low standards of performance and mediocrity are the norm. Process improvement is desperately needed but not wanted and actually fought against. Protection of the status quo is of the utmost importance.

I was talking with one of the school administrators who confided in me of the irritation that was felt towards a very aggressive teacher in our fifth grade.This educator was upset with the poor performance of the grade level,and made a lot of noise about it. Tried to get some changes implemented to avoid failure and was met with a brick wall. When the inevitable failure (poor standardized test scores) came to fruition the administrator was more upset with one making the noise and trying institute change then towards those who failed.Protecting relationships seems to be more important then critically looking at performance.

Joe's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree. When I was in college, (and actually sexually harassed by one of my female professors when I was the only male in her class) everybody implied that my gender would make finding a job a snap.
Having taught at the elementary level, and looked for jobs after moving, I can tell you that this is a farce, and that "Good old girls' club" is alive and well in many elementary schools.

I have been looking for jobs recently, and have received interviews out of many candidates. I can safely say that many female elementary teachers are threatened by having an extremely intelligent, articulate, and capable man working in the same grade as them. I think most of them will choose another woman to join their team, even if she's less qualified, because bringing a male into their female-dominated culture will pose so many possible risks and inconveniences. It makes them uncomfortable when a man is around because they feel restrained in talking about pregnancies, female issues, their husbands, and all the stuff that most women gravitate toward when in groups. It is my experience, that when male elementary teachers are hired, it is always by executive decision from a principal or administrator who has the interests of the school at large to maintain. They have a vested interest in creating a more diverse team.
However, I would bet that all-female elementary teams who have a large say in interviewing candidates NEVER choose the male candidate in interviews. I would challenge any female elementary teacher reading this who has sat on an interview panel, to give me an example of a unanimous decision where the female teachers agreed the male candidate was their first choice.

Huge gender disparities are very bad in any educational setting, unless they're same sex schools. And that swings both ways. As we now see, the performance gap between girls and boys widening, and it's time to acknowledge that our system is indeed biased against boys. Everybody has for years been deeply concerned about the disparity between men and women going into the fields of engineering and science, but few give a damn about how boys are slipping behind in reading and writing, and fewer are going to college.

phil's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Men in Tampa Bay need not apply. I am a certified teacher from
California and the best I could ever do is sub work at $11 per hour! Men are looked at with suspicion in Elementary schools
and you are under special observation with the expectation that a complaint will be made against you for the slightest thing.
One guy got fired for " Sorcery" and he is suing. I had a principal at Tampa Bay Blvd. Elementary say in the first two
minutes of the interview: "what do I say to the parents of the 25 children if they say they don't want a 'man' teaching their children?"

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