A Few Good Men

November 18, 2005 2 min read

Male elementary school teachers are a shrinking minority today, but they are needed more than ever, according to a feature article in the November-December issue of Teacher Magazine.

The article, by freelance writer Kellie Rowden-Racette, looks at some of the reasons for the male teacher shortage and discusses new efforts to bring more men into the profession.

According to 2000-01 data compiled by the National Education Association, just 9 percent of the nation’s elementary school teachers are male—a percentage that has dropped steeply in the past 25 years.

Chief among the reasons for the low numbers of male teachers, Rowden-Racette finds, are the societal perception that teaching is primarily a woman’s job and the relatively modest pay teachers receive. The combination makes it difficult for some men to pursue teaching even if might they have an interest.

“If teachers were paid a hundred thousand dollars, we’d see more men in teaching,” Bryan Nelson, the founder of MenTeach, a nonprofit that recruits men into teaching, is quoted as saying. “The unfortunate reality is that in many parts of our society, people feel that if a man isn’t bringing home the bacon, what use is he?”

Rowden-Racette also identifies another factor that makes teaching a difficult profession for men: Fear of sex-abuse claims. Recent headlines about sex abuse in schools, she says, have helped create a “rising tide of suspicion” toward male teachers, even though great majority of them behave appropriately. Male teachers today must have a heightened awareness of their interactions with students and families, experts say.

Despite such challenges, the male teachers interviewed by Rowden-Racette express little regret about their chosen profession. “I enjoy coming to work every day. I love it,” says Pete Villa, a 41-year-old 4th grade teacher in New York state. By way of comparison, Villa notes that his college roommate, who scorned the idea of teaching, is “now in the middle of his sixth corporate takeover and doesn’t know where he’s going to get his next meal.”

Rowden-Racette also finds that male educators feel particularly needed in today’s classrooms. “I see a lot of single-parent families where there aren’t any fathers,” says Villa. “What happens is that there are children who don’t have a male influence in their lives. I think they look to me for that.”

Situations like that have led to a new push to get more men in the classroom, writes Rowden-Racette. In South Carolina, a program called Call Me Mister that works to guide African-American males into teaching is attracting national attention. And MenTeach is stepping up its focus on recruitment and looking at ways of making teacher development more “male-friendly.”

Some education schools are also “looking closely their core programs to see whether they can make men feel more welcome,” writes Rowden-Racette. Among the ideas being discussed at one college of education, she says, is creating more of social-justice orientation in the curriculum.