The U.S. Marines aren't the only ones looking for a few good men. While female teachers have dominated elementary schools for quite some time, the ratio of men to women in the classroom has steadily declined over the past two decades. Nowadays, only about 9 percent of elementary school teachers are male.
What's keeping men away? According to the National Education Association (NEA), one big reason is the salaries of teachers compared to other professionals. It's probably not a coincidence that states with the highest teacher salaries tend to have the highest percentage of male teachers.
Other reasons for the shortage, according to educational experts and men themselves, include:
- the perception that teaching is “women's work”
- a lack of role models
- the fear of false child-abuse accusations
- the fear of feeling out-of-place in a predominantly female workplace
Many men who do become teachers find that they are not expected to stay in the classroom for long. People often assume they are just using the experience as a stepping-stone to a higher position. Some male teachers have even reported receiving advertisements in their mailboxes for positions as principals and administrators—notices that female colleagues did not get.
While hiring and retaining male teachers may not be easy, studies show the effort can have a large pay-off, especially by helping boys to view school as a male-friendly place. In fact, research done by Swarthmore professor Thomas Dee and published in the journal Education Next raises the possibility that the academic gap between boys and girls might be narrowed by exposing boys to more male teachers.
For parents interested in adding more gender diversity to the classroom, here are a few ideas:
- Express your concern to your school's board of education and ask the group to make an effort to recruit more male applicants the next time a classroom position opens up.
- Write to your elected officials to lobby for higher teacher salaries (for the appropriate names and addresses, go to www.congress.org/congressorg/home/ and type in your zip code under “Take Action”).
- Invite male teachers to talk at the school's Career Day. (And, while you're at it, seek out a female firefighter or construction worker, too.) When our children see that both men and women have a wide variety of vocations open to them, they can begin to imagine themselves growing up to be whatever they want to be.
- Set up a mentoring program between older male students and elementary-school boys. Both groups benefit—the older from being role models and the younger from the individual male attention.
- If you are a father, get involved in elementary education any way you can--act as a field trip chaperone, help out at a holiday party, or volunteer for lunch duty.
Just as women have made great strides in many male-dominated fields, it is time to encourage men to break the elementary school gender cycle. For as we find a few more good men to teach our children, we might just find that we turn out a few more excellent men in years to come.