teacher, male teacher, k-12, middle school, elementary school

K-12 Schools Need More Male Teachers

May 31, 2011 07:00 AM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
The dwindling number of male teachers in elementary and middle schools is cause for concern. Boys and girls need male role models in the classroom, educators say.

Bringing a Masculine Presence to the Classroom

A large number of K-12 schools in the Chicago area and around the country are experiencing a decrease in the number of male teachers on their staff, Joel Hood reported for the Chicago Tribune in 2009. The situation in Illinois appears to be part of a larger national trend that affects the way children perceive education and gender roles, Hood suggested.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education, “In Illinois, fewer than 1 in 4 teachers between kindergarten and high school are men, a percentage that has declined over a 10-year period from 24.6 percent in 1999 to 22.9 percent in 2008,” the Tribune reported. Steve Tozer, professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the Tribune that the “ever-widening gender gap among teachers,” particularly in the lower grade levels, “accelerated in the early 1960s as more women sought jobs outside the home.”

Phillip Jackson, president of the Black Star Project, a Chicago-based educational organization, emphasizes the importance of stable male figures for kids, particularly for boys during their formative years. “Unfortunately, the males that become important in the lives of so many African-American and Latino boys are the gang leaders, the drug dealers, the hustlers—and if that's all they see, that's what they'll become,” he told the Tribune.

Background: The stress of teaching

Low starting pay, old stereotypes regarding male and female roles, and stigma are some of the reasons men are deterred from entering the field of education. Male teachers have the added concern of implicitly becoming father figures for children who lack such influence at home.

In many cases, these pressures prove to be too much for educators. In an article for Good Magazine, Eric Smillie interviewed both male and female teachers who have recently left the educational field after only a few years in the classroom. Freeden Oeur, a 6th-grade teacher, mentioned that he felt “overwhelmed emotionally and psychologically” after his first year of teaching. Similarly, Jacob Mnookin, a high school English teacher, declared that, after only three years in the field, he “was totally spent emotionally and physically,” and felt as though he’d “been teaching for 30 years.”

Opinion & Analysis: An optimistic outlook?

The economic recession, however, has driven many men recently laid off from white-collar jobs to search for positions in the educational field, making experts optimistic about future prospects. Bryan Nelson, director of MenTeach, an advocacy group for male teachers based in Minneapolis, believes the inclusion of male teachers in the classroom is crucial for the creation of a realistic environment for children to learn in. “The message we're sending to boys is that, not only is teaching a women's realm, but perhaps education is as well,” he told the Tribune.

Chuck Carney of Indiana University echoes Nelson’s viewpoint, advocating for the crucial importance of male teachers in educational environments. Quoting an Education Policy Brief from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) at Indiana University, Carney suggests that “as long as there is a great disparity in the teacher workforce, children will continue to form sexist gender relations, based on the concept that ‘women teach and men manage.’”

At the same time, several schools in the state of Maryland have attempted to make up for the lack of men in elementary and middle school classrooms by enrolling parents as volunteers. The Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students) program organized by the Talbott Springs Elementary School in Columbia, Md., for instance, “encourages fathers or adult males to spend the day at school, where they do everything from assisting teachers with lessons to eating lunch with students,” John-John Williams reported for the Baltimore Sun. The program is meant to provide positive male role models for young boys and girls, and “overcome a traditional bias about gender roles in schools,” Williams wrote.

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