Recent efforts to break gender barriers in traditionally male-dominated fields present opportunities for women to advance in fields which were previously closed off to them. While there is still work to be done, initiatives such as Girls Who Code or the NYU organization Women In Science suggest there is hope for a female-friendly work environment. However, where there is imbalance in male-dominated professions, there is also an imbalance in female-dominated fields which must be similarly remedied. The traditionally female-occupied role of teaching must also diminish its stark gender disparity.
Just as gender norms and sexism drive women away from fields that are traditionally masculine, the same forces drive men away from so-called feminine labor. Outdated beliefs that characterize teaching as women’s work drive men away from the profession. Research has shown gendered environments can make girls less interested in stereotypically male fields, and there is little reason to doubt that boys are similarly affected. The effect is a gender gap in the teaching profession that mirrors the gender gap in radically male-dominated fields, such as computer science and engineering. In New York City alone, only 24 percent of teachers are male, many of whom are high school teachers. The disparity is even stronger in elementary and middle school, where male teachers make up only 15 percent of the faculty. Having strong male role models as teachers would help combat the stigmatization against the male teacher.
The disparity is not simply unfair: the stereotype pushing men out of teaching can have serious ramifications on the quality of schools. In general, starkly disproportionate demographic ratios hinder the recruitment of talented workers in any field. Many male college graduates who have as much of an aptitude toward teaching as their female counterparts are choosing other fields, depriving schools of talented, young new teachers. Improving gender balance in classrooms will likely have a positive impact on students. Just as the presence of female science teachers improves the participation and attitudes of female students in science, male english teachers help boys improve in reading and writing. Boys in school tend to lag a year and a half behind girls in reading due in part to associations of reading with femininity, an association furthered by the fact that most, if not all of their reading teachers in early grades are women.
Already many public initiatives are attempting to put more male teachers in schools. Men Teach, an initiative that operates through the NYC mayor’s office and CUNY, trains more men to work in city schools. These efforts are models for what more teaching schools, like Steinhardt and Columbia Teachers’ College, need to do. Fighting the outmoded stereotypes about male teachers will improve education for all students.