Friday, March 20, 2009

The Lack of Male Teachers in the Elementary Schools

Why is there a lack of male teachers in the elementary school grades? I find it to be a very fulfilling job, so where are all the other guys? In this article, "It's elementary: Male teachers rare-Primary school is still mainly a woman's world" from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer we are introduced to a third grade teacher Andrew Bean. He explains why teaching can be a very rewarding job when he says that teaching "...can be exhausting and very demanding, but I see it as this constant intellectual challenge ... you have to be constantly thinking on your feet. I wish that could be understood and honored and respected." I think this is a key explanation about why some men enjoy the art of teaching (and women too!). Everyday is new and different and you never know what problems you will have to solve or what challenges you may face.

So where are the male teachers? The article claims that nationwide only 17 percent of elementary school teachers are male. I wonder if that includes gym teachers and other non-classroom teachers in the percentages. It seems high to me. In my 21 years at Mount Pleasant School there have never been more that two male classroom teachers at a time in the school and often I have been the only male classroom teacher in the entire school. In fact when teachers have been brought together from different schools for grade level meetings, I have often found myself alone in a room full of 30-50 females or maybe with one or two other guy teachers. Last year I went to a conference for teachers at Reading First schools in New Hampshire to hear Isabel Beck speak. As I looked around at the approximately 200 teachers in the audience, I saw Mr. Geer, the principal of my school, another male administrator, and no other male representatives. I was the only male classroom teacher in attendance.

According to the article there are various reasons why men don't teach in elementary schools: the economics of teaching (the pay is not enough to entice men to the job), the nurturing aspect of teaching (the article claims that this is what draws women to the job- however some of the most nurturing teachers I have met have been men), or the feeling that men who want to work with children are looked at suspiciously. This article gives another interesting, surprising, and historical reason why there are fewer male teachers. Whatever the reasons:

The small number of male teachers, especially at the elementary school level,
"is a problem in the same way we don't have enough minority teachers for kids to
connect with," said Jeanne Harmon, executive director of the non-profit Center
for Strengthening the Teaching Profession.

"It's a big problem when kids
don't see themselves reflected in the teaching staff."

Students could
benefit by seeing more men in the classroom, and for some students, especially
those from single-parent homes, a male teacher at school might be the only
positive male role model in their lives, she said.

I do know that there are a lot of men out there who would like to be teachers. I have been told by many "burned-out at their jobs" male friends that they wished they could get into teaching. Of course my friend's houses and cars are much nicer than mine, but after building a career they admit they wish they could have done something more worthwhile and fulfilling.

Shouldn't it be Against the Law for Men to be Near Children?

An ABC News article "The Mistrusted Male Teacher" talks about the bias many males face as teachers in the elementary schools, particularly the attitude that there is something "wrong" about a male wanting to teach young children. I haven't experienced that attitude in a long time, although some kids are anxious when they first find out their teacher is a man. I recall my first day ever at Mount Pleasant School when a challenging young girl looked up at me and said, "You can't be a good teacher, because my mom said that men aren't real teachers!"

When I was looking for a new teaching job back in 1988 due to getting married, I was called early one morning by a principal in southern New Hampshire to come for an interview. She wanted me there as soon as possible so I went up that day and had a terrific interview. The principal and I hit it off and she all but offered me the job on the spot. I went home with the promise that she would call me in a couple of days with all the details. I never heard back. When I called the administration building for that district, I was told they had never heard of my name and the principal would be unavailable to talk to. I never did hear a thing from that lady.

Nashua treated me right when I applied for a job and I have always been thankful for the class they showed. I was told after my interviews that I would have to wait a few weeks to hear from them. I was getting married and going on a honeymoon during that time and was trying to figure out how to find out if I would be offered the job while I was away (this was a time before the internet and cell phones). I was also wondering if I would have to cut my honeymoon short to do other job interviews. A couple of days before my wedding, I got a call from Nashua. They really wanted me to teach at Mount Pleasant School and were calling me much earlier than expected because they knew I was getting married. I was told, "Have a great honeymoon and enjoy it without worrying about getting a job." I have worked extremely hard for Nashua ever since that day!

Now about that other school and principal? A strange thing happened my first year at Mount Pleasant. My principal put my name on a list of teachers to be part of an evaluation team for other schools in New Hampshire. I was eventually given an assignment to help evaluate a school. My jaw dropped when I saw that the school I was to be evaluating was the same one that had "never heard of me". I could have had great fun with that assignment, but I called the committee and explained why I should not evaluate that school. I was given another school in the same district to evaluate. It was an interesting few days, but the most interesting part was when my evaluation team met with the district's school board. The school board was telling us about their school system and then a few of the members starting talking about males in the elementary schools. We were told they do not like men in their buildings. They did not want male teachers in the elementary grades at all. In fact they only allowed female janitors in the school during the day and men would have to work after the children left the building. I got the picture about why that district "never heard of me" or why the principal was "silenced". I truly believed she was trying to get a male teacher into her school, but was told off. I saw her at an "evaluation" meeting for all the schools during that trip, but I didn't go up and talk to her. I wish I had. It would have been interesting to get the whole story. And it would have been so fun if I had shown up as the evaluator of that school!

So Why do Men Teach in Elementary Schools?

I went to college as an economics major. I thought about teaching, but I thought it would only be an option if I could only find out what subject I enjoyed the most. I only really considered being a high school teacher and coach. I had a change of heart (and courses) my senior year of college. I took a class on the stages of human development and learned about the mind and the stages of learning and growth and it occurred to me that young kids were more than "little beings" but that they had interesting and developing minds. All of a sudden teaching younger kids sounded real interesting. I realized that I could teach all subjects and not have to choose a favorite if I just taught in an elementary school.

There are so many things I can be in my classroom: a comedian, an artist, a reader, a scientist, a mathematician, or an expert on my city and state. I can ask and answer interesting questions throughout the day and help kids with family issues, friendship issues, or just life issues. I can encourage, motivate, and explain the workings of the world. I can read the most interesting books to a captivated audience. I can move around, create, and inspire. I could also continue learning new things all the time. In fact, I could have a lot of fun. The list of things I get to do are unending. It is wondrous fun when you can do such important things to help your students be better people and better learners. Who wouldn't want such and interesting and essential job?

Some guys have figured it out and enjoy the thrill of being an elementary school teacher. In this article "The Few. The Proud. The Male Teachers" about teacher Nick Holtvluwer we see a bit into the life of a male teacher who enjoys the job. Some females have figured it out too and do just the same wonderful job for all the right reasons. A good teacher is a good teacher. My own children have had many great teachers in their elementary years in Nashua (including those here at Mount Pleasant). They have also had some terrible teachers and experiences in this school system. However two of the most nurturing and understanding teachers that any of my children have encountered were the two male teachers that my daughter had in elementary school. Just the same, in the older grades they have encountered some horrible male teachers too! A good teacher is a good teacher! I just find that many of the men who are willing to dedicate themselves to the younger child are in teaching for all the right reasons.

The Care and Feeding of Your Male Teachers

I haven't given this question a lot of thought until recently. In former years when I was the lone male teacher, unlike this year where I have an excellent new teammate in Tim Caster, being an outnumbered minority in a school full of women can make it very hard to fit in. I have always done the best I can, but in reality. I am an outsider in a woman's world (as the token male teacher). I enjoy talking with my friends on the staff and usually get along fine with everyone. Mount Pleasant School has a tremendous staff of dedicated teachers and I believe it is the best group of teachers in the entire district. But I live in a world where cooking and things that interest women are often discussed and while I don't mind eating, I don't cook. I have to navigate a world of baby showers and party decorations, Avon catalogs, and woman talk. There are a lot of things that are discussed or events that happen that just don't interest me and there are so many things that interest me that aren't part of the conversations or interests of a female staff.

My school has had a "teacher's week" for the past few years. Some days we got food, yeah, I am all for that! but other times it was about pampering: getting your nails done, getting samples from some cosmetic company, and other "girly things". I just ignored that stuff. This year our new assistant principal, Scott Jacquith designed a "man's room" for the men in our school on the pampering day. That was cool. There was a recliner set up, sports videos on a television, newspapers to read, some bottles of soda, chips, and other "guy" food. It was neat to know that the men were recognized at our school.

If my elementary school was full of male teachers and there were just one or two female teachers, I am sure the school environment would be a drastically different place (and maybe the teachers room would be a bit cleaner too!). The conversations, activities,and life of the school would drastically change. I would guess that the female teachers would feel very uncomfortable and maybe there would be "laws" and "training" in place so that the men would deal sensitively with the women and not overstep their boundaries. I have never heard of such a thing for the sake of a lone male elementary school teacher. Yet, I feel, we are stepping into a foreign world as we work in female dominated profession. I still don't understand and know how to properly deal with the social "games" that some women can play or understand the "rules" of behavior according to the female code. I don't think I ever will, but when you are the minority and you don't get the "games" and "rules" then you are out of the loop. This can be a great danger for male teachers. It is also one of the great surprises. One of the great things about my school is that I have always got along very well with the staff at my school. They are very accepting of me despite my "quirks" of being a guy and they have been great champions for me when the Boston Marathon issue came up. They turned a horrible district decision into a celebration that made me proud to be a Mount Pleasant teacher. A bunch of guy friends, no matter how great, would never have responded in the same way! Yes, guys do think and act differently!

Sitting through meetings with an abundance of female teachers and often only myself representing the male voice. I have found that I have had to learn to speak up and champion the causes of education from the "male" perspective. Sometimes this is valued, sometimes it is not. If you don't think that there are issues with how boys are taught read "The Trouble With Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do" by Peg Tyre (my review here) and if you don't think this impacts the future of girls then read the book again. Sometimes, I know what I say is appreciated and sometimes I get the feeling that I should just "shut up" and sit there dutifully taking notes like a "good girl" would. It is not always "easy" being that voice and maybe sometimes I get it wrong, but the schools do need to listen carefully to all voices. If a school is privileged to have some male teachers then they should do some good listening, because we do offer a completely different and valid perspective. The article "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." found at Edutopia Magazine addresses some of these differences.

...though males tend to be structured in what they do, they are more willing to use creative means to engage students...

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 (from an informal poll)...

"Men tend to give more direction in their approach to sharing knowledge. They want to appear to be the expert." Women, on the other hand, are more likely to collaborate with students and incorporate their ideas "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.
In Case You Haven't Noticed: Men and Women are Different!

In a editorial "The Value of the Male Schoolteacher" Bryan Nelson, director of MenTeach, says that the problem is not that boys need men for academic achievement - little data supports that. He said the lack of men in the lower grades reinforces an endless cycle of inequality in men's and women's roles. He goes on to say that without male teachers...

"We are missing so much," said Nelson, 50. "For instance, there is a playfulness about men kids desperately need at a time the system is so absent of play.

(By the way I just love that quote as I think that describes the way I teach. I could be wrong, but I think I am a "playful" teacher. I also think that the current educational atmosphere across the country no longer values that part of teaching. It can't be measured on a test score- so why value it?)

When a male teacher is expected to "act" like a woman, have interests like a woman, and teach like a woman then the role of that teacher is forever marginalized because men are different! In no way do I care to be a "woman", but it is often assumed and expected that we should act and teach in a way that mirrors the female "way" of teaching as well as respond in meetings as a "female" would. In much the same way, the boys of today are often expected to behave and learn in schools in a more a "female " mode of learning. It is another topic, but boys are not allowed to be boys and that is a affecting the futures of our students and sons. Boys do learn differently from girls and many schools are refusing to recognize that fact.

When I attend district meetings with more male teachers in attendance, including junior high and high school teachers, there is a different energy and attitude. It is not always good, I recently watched a male teacher "flip off" everyone in the meeting. I thought it was rude and unprofessional but most people chuckled along including the administrators at the meeting. I don't think those antics would sit well at an female dominated meeting. It is not that men can be rude, it is that men joke and talk in a different way and get passionate and openly frustrated when they can't fix a problem right away. I notice that men don't want to discuss things endlessly, we want to get to the point and deal with it. We value the "big picture" and not necessarily the little details that can get in the way.

If you have a good male teacher at your school, do value that voice and listen to it, because it will and should be different than the female points of view in your building. If your child has a male teacher, delight yourself in that fact and realize that if his teaching is good, your child will recall that year fondly throughout his or her life. I know at my school many teachers value my voice, even if they don't agree with me, on the other hand I sometimes get the feeling that I am definitely an outsider and an intruder into a woman's world and can at times feel very unwelcome. I guess that is what happens when you are in the minority. Your voice may not be heard or valued. That may just be enough to keep men away from ever wanting to be an elementary school teacher and that would truly be a shame!

This post has been included on the 214th edition of the Carnvial of Education.
This carnival was hosted by Epic Adventures are Often Uncomfortable. You can find many educational blogging posts at this site.


Mr. McGuire said...

Nothing beats teaching in an elementary. Hopefully posts like this will encourage more men to join us.

Jim Hansen said...

I do hope so, as I don't want to scare them away!

Duncan said...

I qualified as a science teacher after gaining a PhD, thus i have two things counting against my chances securing a teaching post in early years; male and 'over quailified'.

In 10 years i have only secured one interview and was informed that athough i could teach, parents would be unsettled if i was offered the post in question.

My advice if you are male, dont bother as the teaching profession is happy the way it is.

The said...

That was a great read. I am education student at Mcgill university and I am doing a project on male teachers. Your piece really summed up a lot of what I have been reading elsewhere. Thanks for all the suggested links.

Jim Hansen said...

Thanks for your comments and best wishes for your teaching career.

Joseph said...

Hey there, I'm an Elementary Education Major at the University of Louisiana. I'm in my final two semesters before I get my degree and have passed both of my Praxis exams. One thing that stuck out to me was that I also don't mind so much the chit chat going on, but I feel the need during my teaching (I'm currently teaching a series of 15 math lessons to a group of third graders) to stop children because I am being observed and it seems as though I am simply not seeing them talk. Additionally, I believe a lot of what you said really hits it for me. Throughout my entire period of education courses it is usually myself as the lone male. This makes me feel as though I have to prove myself and do a better job because I am a minority. Your article really encouraged me to try and be true to who I am. I'm there to inspire, give laughs, and teach young children. I know that personally, I decided to go into this field because it sounded like fun but yet a challenge as well. My first few experiences teaching made me strongly reflect on what I was doing, but the more I do it the more I realize that the choice I made several years ago was the correct one. Thank you for this article again.

John Gazzara said...

I decided to become a teacher after being an entertainer for forty-two tears. I became an Ed. major in 2005, and was convinced by my professors and advisers that mature male teachers were desperately needed in elementary schools. So I became K-6 certified in Pennsylvania and K-5 in New Jersey with 6-8 language arts. I've been subbing for four years in two states and have been on one interview. It was in the Trenton New Jersey School District. A few days after the interview, I received a phone call on both my home and cell phones offering me a forth grade position. I accepted the position, and was instructed to come to the administration building to fill out the paper work. After hours of filling out new employee forms, the HR manager informed me that she needed me to start on January 3rd, so I needed to get the usual clearances to her quickly. At the end of the long day of filling out forms, I was informed that the position that was offered to me, which I filled out all those papers, and was instructed to get the necessary clearances, was given to another...a young woman. Similar situations have occurred other districts where younger female teachers with far less experience have gotten the jobs. So, they can tell you that they need and want mature male teacher in elementary schools, but they keep hiring they young females.

Jim Hansen said...

That is sad to hear, John. I wonder how much of it is because they expect young teachers to follow orders and stick to the script, rather than use their wisdom and life experiences to inform their teaching and to figure out the difference between good teaching and "following orders".