March 01, 2008

Where Have All The Male Teachers Gone?

Granted, my department is pretty testosterone-laden (only 1/3 female -- which is a 300% increase from a year ago), but I can attest that the number of female teachers significantly exceeds the number of male teachers, especially in the lower grades.

It is an odd, disquieting fact at times. After all, such a discrepancy in regard to any other demographic sub-group would be taken as prima facie evidence of invidious discrimination and mandate serious affirmative action remedies.

According to statistics recently released by the National Education Association (NEA), men made up just 24.4 percent of the total number of teachers in 2006. In fact, the number of male public school teachers in the U.S. has hit a record 40-year low. Arkansas, at 17.5 percent, and Mississippi, with 17.7 percent, have the lowest percentage of male teachers, while Kansas, at 33.3 percent, and Oregon, with 31.4 percent, boast the largest percentage of men leading the classroom.

Let's look at those numbers. Men are represented in the classroom at only 50% of their percentage in the general public nationwide -- and in some states the under-representation rises as high as 65%. Why would that be?

Why the downward trend in male teaching? According to Bryan Nelson, founder of MenTeach, a nonprofit organization dedicated to recruiting male teachers, research suggests three key reasons for the shortage of male teachers: low status and pay, the perception that teaching is "women's work," and the fear of accusation of child abuse.

You have that right, folks. Men are still expected to be the main breadwinner in this society, but we teachers are really not paid enough to do that. The perception of teaching as "women's work" is real -- and often fostered by female teachers and administrator in the lower grades, as well as female professors of education (and some of their neutered male colleagues) who seek to elevate "female" notions of cooperation and collaboration over "male" values like competition and individual achievement. And don't forget the minor detail that any man is presumed to be a sexual predator under modern notions of feminism.

What no one wants to look at is the reality that there actually is discrimination against men who want to go into education, especially in the lower grades.

For men thinking of heading into education, Nelson offered hard-won advice: Be persistent. Get practical experience first. Look for resources to help you get through school, and, when applying for a job, make sure you have thick skin.

"People will ask you inappropriate questions," he said, recalling a recent e-mail he received from an aspiring male teacher who was asked during a job interview, "Why would any healthy male want to work with kids?"

In such situations, Nelson suggests stressing the positive aspects of having a man in the classroom. "When kids see [a man] in front of them on a daily basis, it helps to contradict negative stereotypes," Nelson said.

The magnificent Dr. Helen sums up my reaction to that little bit of "wisdom" from an ADVOCATE for men in the classroom.

So men are told to get a thick skin, get used to handling "inappropriate questions," and learn to contradict negative sterotypes. In other words, if men are discriminated against, it is up to them to deal with the fall-out and to change negative steroptypes and to expect no help from other people. So men are guilty unless proven otherwise.

Dear God -- it is 2008! No one would dream of asking why a "normal" woman or minority would want to be a doctor, lawyer, or President of the United States. What is going on when we are getting the same sort of questions about the normalcy of a man who wants to work with children?

Personal experience on the matter? I've been on the receiving end of the anti-male discrimination. I can point to it 20 years ago. Having completed all but my comprehensive exams for my master's degrees, I found myself work at the start of a school year. A local Catholic school was advertising for a teacher's aide to help teach reading classes. I interviewed for the position -- and was turned down. Four weeks later I got a call from the school offering me the position. I later learned that two women without college degrees had been hired and let go before I, the sole remaining applicant (who was already certified in secondary education), was offered the job.

Shortly after Christmas, I began talking with the two teachers with whom I worked about seeking elementary education certification -- and was discouraged, despite the high praise they gave me for my work with our first and second grade students. After raising the issue a few more times over the next several weeks with some of the other teachers, I was summoned to the office of the principal and informed that I should give up my "silly notions" of teaching on the elementary level -- and that she would see to it that I received no positive recommendations for either the local university elementary education program or any elementary school because "men do not belong in an elementary classroom." A few days later I was informed that my position was to be eliminated at the end of the school year -- but interestingly enough, an identical position was created the following fall and given to a female parishioner without a college degree.

And I won't get into the question of sexual abuse allegations. I've ranted about that one in the past, about seeing male colleagues victimized by false accusations while actual female perpetrators are given light sentences because their actual misconduct is seen as not as severe as the same deeds committed by a man.

Having said all that, I want to mention one positive sign -- and one close to my heart. Last spring, I met up with a former student at the district administration building. I'd lost contact with this young man, an old favorite of mine, after he graduated from high school. I was pleasantly surprised to see he was wearing an ID card from one of the other schools in the district -- and that he was teaching fourth grade. Even better, that spring he was named the rookie teacher of the year at his school. I know it is a little thing, but that this young man made the choice to teach tells me that there are others out there who will follow if our society makes it clear that male teachers -- and teachers in general -- are something that we value.

By the way, kudos to Hube for noting that the media seems intent upon ignoring this story. And thanks to Soccer Dad for contacting us both about the issue.

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NAME: Greg
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