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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

dave trier's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Funny, my style of teaching is identical to the results from Mr. Hendrickson's class survey.
Also, I too receive hugs more from boys than girls.
Fortunately, peers and others that I interact with seem to very much respect the work that I do. I certainly do not feel I have a lower status job. I know I could get paid more in another profession, but I most likely would not be as satisfied.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Male teachers in the past have either taught at the High School or Junior High level or were gym teachers or principals in elementary schools. In my own elementary school that was the format and I didn't have a male teacher until I was in Junior High. Also, noted in this article, the number of male elementary education teachers is dropping. There is an assumption for males that they need to be the breadwinner with high status in society, both categories a teacher struggles to ever meet. For me it has never been about these things, it has been about helping kids and enjoying my work.

Starting in this discipline as a male I didn't know what to expect. I knew that it was a female dominated discipline but didn't realize that the culture itself is fairly feminized. I struggle day to day, as teachers talk to their students about their daughters and the field hockey team. When I work with kids in the summer, its assumed that I will be the person to discipline, but not the one that would put a band aide on a child's knee. That must be beyond and outside my abilities. When I walk into my class, I wonder if my female teachers will not be able to explain the diversity of the discipline because I lack the feminine qualities that have been attributed to good teaching, caring and understanding. The male role that has kept men away from wanting to be a teacher has also worked in the opposite manner, females defending their discipline.

The fact of the matter is we need male teachers. Kid's who don't have dads in their life or a steady hand, desperately need a male in their life. Kid's form their identities in those early years, and without a male role model some of these male youths are forced to find their models on what they think a male should be, from society and their peers. In our reading of Zull, kids learn through the world around them and appropriate its information into their understandings of themselves and society. When a male student never comes across males in their schooling they may never be able to fully actively test their knowledge of male society. The wrong reaction as well as critique may occur from a female teacher. These students are forced to go it alone creating their own identity through their female teachers and societies understanding of what a male is. You can see throught this article some of the reasons men stay out the discipline.

From working with male students this summer I was able to see that some male student's had no respect for female authority. They refused to listen to any female teacher, because of their understandings of how males treat women at home. These understandings could never be stopped as they will never have the trust with an adult for them to understand and break down this understanding. Learning this from a female will not have the same affect. It is easier to create a positive relationship in the same sex, and without male teachers some of these students are never motivated properly.
I wrote this as an education student at UVM.

kathleen marshall's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Teachers in Washington State are fortunate in the fact that all teachers earn equal salary based upon degrees earned and years teaching. This is true K-12. My school happens to have a professional partnership with a local university. The teacher ed candidates take their literacy courses in our building taught by university professors. The skills taught are then rapidly transferred into hands on work with our students K-6th. That grouping takes place in 2 cohorts of nearly 30 adults per cohort. It is interesting to see many gray heads bent over tables with our children. I believe the current average age is at least 34 and likely higher. There are a number of males in the program which gives them a supportive environment and verifies that it's o.k. to be a male elementary teacher.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It's because men aren't allowed to be men anymore, especially not in education. We have to wear ties and pink shirts, drive Priuses, say meaningless phrases like 'it takes a village...,' and pass on pinko propaganda about free stuff from tax dollars. I mean, seriously, how can you make a man whine about global warming, when really he just wants a nice, fat, manatee burger? Therefore, men go and take more meaningful jobs, such as lumberjacking, latex-bikini painting or piracy. If a real, beef jerky eating, muscle car driving, butt-kicking, hairy man came to teach, nobody would be able to handle it.

Gal Teacher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


As a female teacher, I agree with you! My hubby is in education, and he TOO agrees that -as you put it- school has become "chick-i-fied." (Though I think a better term would be Feminie Focused). Women ARE more likely to nuture their peers, as well as their students!

We do work differently, and our youth need experience and interaction with men and women as teacher role-models.

My father is an elementary principal, and he goes out of his way to hire men. On the flip side, I worked in a school where there were NO men.

My hope is that all schools, from elementary to high, will have equal representation of gender, race, and age.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I KNOW this from experience. You can only get a job in Elementary Ed if you are: not a stellar student, &/or have mediocre grades, &/or are no older than 22, are female, are black/hispanic/or of obviously mixed race, no leadership potential, no experience, no backbone... Experienced people are not welcome. Smart people are not welcome. Successful people are not welcome. 50 year old people are not welcome. People with 4.0 GPA in a MAT in Elementary are NOT WELCOME! They want young, weak, desperate, controllable subordinates who may be able to "demonstrate growth" on the job and who will never have an independent thought or innovate change of any sort. Educate children? Nah... Our goal is to keep the status quo and never admit that parents in low socio-economic situations are ruining their children's lives - not teachers/schools. ADMIT IT! Parents are THE one single factor in a child's success or failure - and you only want expendable sheep "teaching" them...

John Day's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a 4th grade teacher for the last 35 years I do know how lucky I've been. I was hired during a time when men were being accepted as elementary level teachers. We even had a male Kdg. teacher. Our principal and BOE knew the value of having male role models. There was no stigma. I am the last remaining male of that good old days staff. My only hope is that when I retire next year I am replaced with another male teacher. I have loved every minute of teaching at this level.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a male teacher who finally went into administration after fifteen years in elementary classrooms. I began teaching Kindergarten, and then moved on to 3rd and then 4th grade as I kept seeking new challenges.

I finally went into administration because no matter how hard I worked or how much I outperformed my teaching colleagues, male and female, there was no reward for my superior performance. The only way for me to increase my earning power significantly was to leave the classroom. I went the whole coaching, refereeing, tutoring, and working odd jobs on weekends route, as most male teachers do to make ends meet, and in the end I just got sick of it.

That's messed up. I would much rather have stayed in the classroom. I know it's fiscally impossible to pay all teachers high salaries because there are just too many of us out there. But after fifteeen years of distinguished performance--including performance feedback instruments from parents, peers, and supervisors, and with stellar results from standardized tests , I was getting paid the same as someone who was mediocre - or worse - for the same fifteen years, and that was just too discouraging.

In my long experience being a male in a heavily female world, very few of my female colleagues seemed bothered by this. Whether men are more innately competitive than women, I don't know. But I do know that I would still be in the classroom if may performance determined my pay.

teacherman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)


I am the technology teacher for a small private nursery-8th school in NJ. I work with the 7th-8th grade daily during lunch/gym and have created a mentoring program for boys.

To me, there is a tremendous need for more MEN in ALL schools. This is specifically in response to the poster above titled "Teacher gender is the wrong question". I completely disagree, IT is ONE of the right questions.

Students need to be taught in an environment that reflects the world they will be entering. Males in a school environment help the students learn to relate with adult men, which they will need to do throughout their lives.

I think this is ESPECIALLY true for the young man in his 11-14th years when strong male role models are very important. Where does a man learn how to be his best? Hopefully at home, but these days many fathers are either too busy or not there at all to nurture their sons. Hence the creation of my male student mentoring program at my school, show them a different choice of what kind of man they could become then what they see on the media.

My Reasons Males don't want to teach:

1. Low Pay BIGGEST thing (I want a house, and family, and yes, I want to be a capable breadwinner. My wife can be too, thats no problem for me, but don't ask me NOT to pull my own weight)
2. Overwhelmingly female "style" working environment, see the poster above who talks about having to bring food etc....(although I don't mind the $ collections, I like to contribute to my community), Not to mention staff meetings that become huge group counseling sessions (yeah, I said it).
3. Feeling on occasion that I have to defend myself for being *GASP* a GUY! Men have a different style in general, which is not always respected or accepted by female peers.
4. Threat of charges of sexual inappropriateness. Thats real, in all school levels, I would NEVER teach in a high school

Also, just wanted to say about the "image" issue of being a male teacher: Women love hearing that you teach children, good god, it must be one of the best pick up lines ever (not that I have ever used it ;) ). All the male teachers I know are VERY aware of this :)

Anyway, I think the first poster summed up what kind of individuals make the best teachers, I just think we can't neglect the role men play in the world, and that they definitely need a greater presence in all learning environments.

Give ALL teachers Better PAY AND Better benefits! TAKE AWAY NCLB! IT's ruining our schools! Return to TRUE teaching! Teach to the individual, make classrooms acceessible for ALL! RESPECT OUR CHILDREN!


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If you want to find more gifted men and women in the taching force, the answer is simple...MORE MONEY HONEY!!!!!

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