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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

Chris Burke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am male, still in college, and going through the motions of deciding whether or not this is a career in which I'd like to be involved for the remainder of my life.

I definitely see the disparity of the male presence in schools and can't wait to make it through my practicum so that I can become a driving force in overturning these kinds of stereotypes. Amen, though, to the "icebreakers" comment made by another poster. There are a lot of infantile things that abound in this profession that I could certainly do without. I plan to teach high school simply because I enjoy interacting with other individuals that (finally) have developed their own opinions.

Coming from the military, I have witnessed now both ends of the gender drama. Women are still having a difficult time making it in the military thanks to biases that are allowed to continue, and sometimes even encouraged. The only thing that will save men from a similar outcome is to remain focused by refusing to accept these kinds of associations and by forming alliances within their institutions to address these concerns. Forthrightness is key.

Michael McLees's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a male who went back to school to be certificated as an elementary teacher in California; all of this was a pleasurable informative and wonderful experience until I finished and received my credential and went out interviewing for jobs. I have NOT been able to find a Full-time teaching position in SOuthern california in two years, though I have been interviewed for four public school and one private school positions. I have to be content with substitute teaching which doesn't pay the bills. I now may have to abandon my love of teaching and find a full-time job in another field. Economic realities are what they are. Does anyone have helpful advice or leads for someone like me?

Michael McLees's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I had a wonderful experience going back to school and getting credentialed (I'm a male) for elementary general education in California, obtaining my credential two years ago while sub teaching. That is, it was wonderful until I actually looked for a job. I have NOT been able to find a full-time position in Southern California (or anywhere else) Though I have sent out nearly 100 appliciations (many with transcripts attached) and have interviewed with four public and one private school. I have to be content with still substitute teaching, although it does not pay the bills. Does anyone have a good lead and or advice for someone like me?

Joeann magee's picture

I am very apprecative of all the comments, however, yours struck me with genuine satisfaction and commitment. I am trying to assist an african american single father with resources/grants because he wants to be a teacher. This is just a starting point for me, but if anyone out there can give advice, suggestions, please do. He lives in Detroit, MI(please don't get turned off). And I happen to be a retired woman just wanting to help people thank you so much. jmagee@bellsouth.net

Matt McCoy's picture

Hi everyone. I'm a male and I am currently considering Elementary Education as a major. If anyone could offer me any advice or insight it would be greatly appreciated! Would you recomend a bachelors or masters? What is the average starting salary? Is the threat of sexual harassment really serious? And anything else you want throw my way?

Dr. Stephen Jones's picture
Dr. Stephen Jones
CEO/Consultant/Keynote Speaker SAJ Publishing Company

Thanks for including my quote in your article. The link should be changed to http://www.studyskills2u.com

I think you have written a wonderful article. More students need to see men in teaching roles. It provides another more wholistic experience for each student. It will also encourage more males to consider a teaching careeer in a K12 schools.

roaddawg31's picture

In the district I'm in, it's 19:1 in terms of female/male teacher. It's crazy that the higher-ups don't seem to recognize this inequality in the gender ratio. It manifests itself in limiting the overall quality of education provided. In terms of test scores, etc. probably makes no difference who you have.

I agree with the remarks in the article, and some of the comments here too. Especially the (older) guy who said he couldn't find work. This is especially annoying, when you consider who they DO hire--it's more than not the cute young blonde with all the usual credentials / qualifications in order, etc. This is not to say that we should discriminate against the hot blonde or whatever. BUT having this one demographic (attractive, organized, goes through life in all the "requisite" channels--i.e. go to university, marry, have two kids, drive minivan) doesn't satisfy the wide range of different people kids meet in their lives, and respond to.

Teachers should reflect the diversity in our society. We don't want/need JUST a legion of soccer moms teaching the kids.

palmharbor's picture

As a certified teacher in Elementary, I think unless the issue of discrimination against hiring is addressed by the EEOC then there will ALWAYS be a shortage of male teachers on the elementary level. Here is Florida, there is an attitude that by principals never hire a male teacher then they never have to worry about any child in the school being molested. That assumes that all men are potentially molesters.
The facts are that the last 8 teachers who have been arrested in Florida for sex with students have all be female....but never let the facts get in the way of Conservative Thinking here in Florida. However, this bias against men is not only true in Florida
but in other places such as CA.
There was a case in Poway, CA where the EEOC after a year of investigation on a charge made against the HR dept. determined that the district had in fact hired a woman not as qualified as a male applicant. The School Dist. told the EEOC that
they disagreed and the EEOC went away...end of story.

The new head of the US office of Education, Duncan was confronted with this reality on a Sirius Radio interview in August and his reply was.....well, its the loss of the school district if they don't hire men.

Chancellor Roberts's picture
Chancellor Roberts
Hoping to get hired for a teaching job in Texas or Latin America

Excuse my cynicism here, but I've personally been told by numerous teachers that they would not want a man teaching their lower-elementary-age child and that the parents in their respective districts don't want them. They've even gone so far as to say that if their child were assigned to a male teacher they would demand that their child be assigned to a female teacher. Worse, they've specifically said that they (the teachers) and parents in their districts automatically assume that if a male wants to teach the lower elementary grades then he must be a pedophile.

In the city where I currently live, a male teacher's aide (who had been in the job for many years) was falsely accused by a female teacher of sexually molesting a young autistic boy when all he was doing was zipping up the boy's pants after the boy had finished using the toilet (the boy couldn't zip his own pants). Though the female teacher's accusation was proven false, that man will never be able to work with children again because there is this general attitude that if a woman (or girl) accuses a man, then the accusation must be true.

Roger Moore's picture

unfortunately elementary education is a woman's world. Men know this, and they stay far away. Women like having the majority, and the power. I guess when public education goes private, the men will start coming back.

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