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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.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

With all due respect, I can honestly state that men teachers that are recruited for elementary positions are Not in demand unless they are:
1. Young(under the age of 40)
2. In-experienced(just out of school or a couple of years in the system)
3. First-time/short-time employees
4. Willing to relocate(no commitments)

My experience with the system is that after returning to school in 1998 and obtaining my elementary education certificate, I spent about 2 years as a very successful substitute(long & short term), and was never offered a position!I have been on so many interviews that my head spins and when the position is filled it has either been a male as I discribed above or another young female (age 45 & below).And as the years go by,(I am now 52) I see any chance of entering a public school as just about non-existant. So, tell me that the jobs are there and I will tell you they are not

Guy Teacher for 13 Years's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think there are three reasons why men aren't entering or staying in the profession.

One is the pay. I'm a single male, but it would be very difficult to support a family on a teacher's salary if I was married and didn't work.

The current push for collaboration, collaboration, collaboration is driving men away. Men, by nature, aren't collaborators. We also don't like a lot of the silly icebreaker activities we have to sit through at female-led staff development sessions. Tell me what I need to do, and I'll do it; I don't need to get input from four or five people. I will never be a mentor again to a new teacher because my district's program was so heavy on "blah, blah, blah" meetings.

I also think schools have become very "chick-i-fied" over the past 10 years. Middle schools are especially bad for this. I taught middle school for two years; every time I turned around, we were collecting money for this teacher's wedding shower or baby shower. We also had to bring food for this or that nearly every week. It was a very expensive place to teach and there were very few men in the school.

It's really a shame so few men are entering the profession because so many kids have no positive male role models in their lives.

These are just my observations. Please don't jump all over my back. The fact is: men and women work and communicate differently. Neither is right or wrong; it's just how we're "programmed."

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can relate to all of the individuals in within this story. I too am a male teacher- first year- second grade. I face many challenges each day with the diversity of students that I have within my classroom. I am currently in a 95% poverty school with a large amount of boys in the classroom. My worst fear is that of accusations and the lack of respect because of the male being missing in the home.

Speaking on the gender level, I rather have boys over girls anyday. Since I am a first year teacher, I am rather young- not married. The feelings that girls exhibit in the younger grades as well as in the upper grades (assisted there) just boggles my mind. I have a difficult time understanding why the girls cry and a difficult time dealing with the situation. If anyone has any support for a male who does not understand females- please let me know!

Overall, I enjoy my job and it seems that my job enjoys me-- I got "Teacher of the Year"! What more can you ask for?!

I feel the classroom is where there should be a feeling of Love, a desire to Learn and a place of Laughter!

I love my school!

Brad Bextermueller's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This article is easily applicable to all levels of education- primary and secondary especially. Unfortunately, the school districts and those in a position to do something about the lack of male teachers continue to pass those who are qualified and wanting by.

I currently work for a company that is contracted to provide alternative education services for many districts throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan area. I have applied for 5 years to public school districts in my area and have yet to receive a call back or interview for a classroom teaching position.

My teacher friends cannot explain/understand why or how I have always been past by. It is discouraging and will eventually be forcing myself out of the profession and into the business world.

The bottom line is schools do not want male teachers for whatever reason. If they did they would make a concerted effort to recruit and hire those who are as qualified and in some cases more qualified than their female counterparts.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have long suspected that there is a bias against male teachers in hiring, in addition to the question of low pay.
My own (small) experience is that boys are desperate for male attention and approaches to teaching. I regularly get spontaneous hugs from boys. They also test male teachers a little bit less. I think girls also appreciate the break from the overwhelming number of women in schools. Whether they can teach boys better I don't know. But it seems to me that such a vastly unbalanced system of education can't be doing our students any good, and may explain some of the disturbing trends, such as boys falling behind academically and dropout rates.
I think men do a disservice to themselves thinking that teaching in lower school is women's work, and schools do a disservice to themselves for maintaining those stereotypical views.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My husband taught in an elementary school for several years. After we moved, he received dozens of offers to teach - all in the middle school. He eventually settled for a middle school job, with the promise that he could moved into the elementary in a year or two when there was an opening. Twelve years later, he quit. He never had been allowed to move down - despite many openings. Perhaps the reason there aren't more men in the elementary school is that they aren't allowed there! They'd rather have the men in the middle and high school to help with discipline measures.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This discussion is just a reflection on "the box" we have built in the profession. I doubt whether the gender of the teacher is really the issue compared to the strengths, skills and commitment of the teacher regardless of gender. Unfortunately our profession is still in the 1940-1950 in understanding what it takes to be a teacher. The real question is how up todate are we in Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence, Multiple Intelligences, integration with technology, application of the Seven Habits and new (read better) ways to deliver content. If you want to improve teching improve the recruiting. This needs to happen at the college-university level. I work with At-Risk teenagers and they don't care what your gender is if you can build a relationship, show relevancy and be fair. Young college students will flock to our profession if we really "sold" them on what we are doing and can do. Of course salary has some importance but salaries can balance when positive aspects of the profession are presented. Good solid administration in our schools is one of the keys, progressive profesional development and our communities supporting us are also important. I will always choose a good-great teacher with the attributes listed above over the gender question.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I define myself as a teacher. I taught in an elementary school and then had an opportunity to work in a university setting. At 3X the salary. I miss the interaction with the kids, but who needs low pay, worry about hugging a kid and all the other hassles?

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