Why So Few Male Teachers Today? Does it Matter?

Should we offer incentives to males to balance out a female-dominated profession?
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Public education in America faces Herculean challenges. Beginning with financial inequity, urban decay, heavy teacher attrition, and a strangling, mechanistic federal law (No Child Left Behind), getting a competitive education in many of America's public schools today can be like running a treacherous, if not impossible, gauntlet.

Putting strong teachers in every classroom is a vital ingredient in any recipe for educational success. However, with half of urban teachers quitting within five years, we're not even close to meeting that need. America will require more than 2 million new teachers over the next decade. Training them for excellence and keeping them in the profession must be a national priority.

There are many ways to make teaching more enticing to qualified would-be teachers: pay them more, offer wider student loan forgiveness, and support them in their workspace.

And... offer incentives to males to balance out a female-dominated profession?

Last month, I spoke to Tamar Snyder, a reporter writing about the shortage of male teachers in America. Her concise story went online today.

Here's an excerpt:

According to statistics recently released by the National Education Association (NEA), men comprised 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.

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.

Many men once in the profession say they quit because of worries that innocuous contact with students could be misconstrued, reports the NEA.

"There's a lack of support for male teachers, a lack of respect, and a lack of being able to be involved in decision-making," says Reg Weaver, president of the NEA. "And I can't say it's getting better."

Low salary levels have also proved to be a deterrent, especially for those men who value being the breadwinners of the family. The average U.S. public school teacher salary for 2005-2006 was $49,026, according to the NEA. "There's a long-entrenched idea that males are supposed to make lots of money and be a big-time breadwinner," Brown says. "But teaching won't make anyone rich."

Historically, a majority of teachers were male until the 1880s, when women pushed for their own education and the opportunity to teach. In the 1930s, after the stock market crashed, a big surge of men returned to education, as they did after World War II, says Nelson. "In tough economic times, men looking for work returned to education," since there were always teaching jobs available, he says.

Of the men who currently choose to pursue a career in education, many are promoted to administrative positions, often quicker than their female colleagues, says Steve Peha, president of Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., an education consulting company. "Even if men start out in the classroom, they often don't stay there for long," says Peha.

And then there are gender stereotypes to contend with. "Particularly in the younger grades, women are seen as nurturers," says Brown. "Men, not so much."

What can be done to stem the tide and attract male teachers?

Increase recruitment efforts, for starters, say experts. "We've seen efforts to recruit minorities into teaching," says Peha, "and efforts to recruit adults looking for alternative careers, but we've never seen a coordinated effort to recruit men."

To be effective, recruiting must begin while men are still in school, he says. "We won't see more male teachers if we don't see more young men pursuing teaching degrees," says Peha.

What do you think about this?

Dan Brown is the author of the new teacher memoir, The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle.

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