by Patty Miller - Edmond Sun

One teacher, a father of four, left the business world where he had worked 24 years as a design engineer in telecommunications and had owned his own business for 15 years.

“While sitting in church listening to a sermon on a purpose-driven life, I felt God was speaking to me,” said Roy Barga, an eighth-grade math teacher at Cheyenne Middle School. “He said, ‘I want you to go teach.'”

Barga didn’t make an immediate decision, but after prayer and discussion with his wife, he enrolled in math classes at the University of Central Oklahoma. Two months after graduation, Barga, with an alternative teaching certificate in hand, got a job at Cheyenne Middle School.

“I make half the money I once did, work twice the hours, have none of the rewards of playing golf whenever I wanted to or going out of town, but I have absolutely no regrets,” Barga said. “There has not been a single day that I didn’t wake up and want to go to work.”

While an inspiring story, Barga is decidedly in the minority as a male educator.

What administrators say

“I think it is our responsibility to start recruiting more men (to go into education) even in our classrooms. Students as young as the seventh grade should be encouraged if they show signs of the ability to teach.”

— Debbie Bendick, Cheyenne Middle School principal

“I think when you have a male at the elementary level you have a father-mother balance. Children respond differently to males. That does not mean they are better, it just means children interact differently.”

— Robert Evans, Washington Irving Elementary principal

Why they teach

“This is my third year to teach, and before going into teaching I reflected on it several years. I thought about what is going to keep me engaged and connected to the community and this is it.”

— Roy Diehl II, seventh-grade math and pre-algebra, Cheyenne Middle School

“I’ve wanted to teach my whole life. My dad was a teacher, and I like interacting with students. Looking back, some of my best teachers were men, they just seemed to look at things differently.”

— Matt Pollard, Technology Literacy, Cheyenne Middle School

“My mom, dad and grandfather were all teachers. I have always been around schools and children.”

— Scott Graham, 8th grade science, Cheyenne Middle School

What moms say

“I have found that when a teacher has passion, that is what makes them a favorite.”

— Cara Falcon

“My three sons seem to relate better to a man’s sense of humor.”

— Laura Lovett

“My son’s favorite teacher was male and my daughter’s favorite was a female.” — Robin McPherson

What students say about men teachers

“I like a teacher that is happy and exciting about what he is teaching.” — Ashley Sykora, 8th grade student, Cheyenne Middle School

“Having a man teacher seems pretty normal to me. My male teachers have been relaxed in class and have made me understand what they are teaching.”

— James Duncan, eighth grade student, Cheyenne Middle School

What you need to know

220 male teachers out of 1,311 total teachers in the Edmond School District

20 male teachers out of 602 in the elementary schools.

65 male teachers out of 306 in the middle schools

135 male teachers out of 362 in the high schools

41 curriculum specialists, special education consultants, alternative school teachers and traveling elementary teacher

Source: Edmond Public Schools

Out of 1,311 teachers district-wide, only 220 of those teachers are men with 20 male teachers in the elementary schools, 65 in the middle schools and 135 teaching on the high school level, many of them also doubling as coaches.

According to the National Education Association, there seem to be fewer men than ever in the classrooms these days. Just 21 percent of the nation’s three million teachers are men, according to NEA. During the past two decades, the ratio of men to women in the classroom steadily has declined. Today it stands at a 40-year low.

The shortage of male teachers is seen more widely in elementary schools, where men make up just 9 percent of teachers, but middle schools and high schools also suffer from a male-female imbalance.

Currently, in secondary schools, about 35 percent of teachers are men — the lowest level ever for the profession.

According to NEA’s research report, Status of the American Public School Teacher, the percentage of male elementary teachers has fallen from an all-time high of 18 percent in 1981 to an all-time low of 9 percent today. While men represented half of secondary teachers in 1986, today they make up 35 percent.

In the September 2007 Newsweek, Reg Weaver, president of the NEA, said, “If kids do not see males in the classroom, they begin to believe teaching is only for females. Unless more men become teachers, the shortage will continue to be a self-perpetuating problem.”

For minority males, the statistics are as troubling. Teachers of color make up only 16 percent of the teaching population, and some 42 percent of public schools have no minority teacher at all.

Research conducted by MenTeach reveals 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.

As a man working in a female-dominated profession, he also must battle these stereotypes.

Low status and pay

Low salaries, compared to what other white-collar professions make, undermine efforts to recruit males to teaching because many men don’t believe teaching pays enough to support families.

With an average starting salary of a first-year teacher at $35,621, many men are opting for higher-paying entry jobs in the business world.

A five-year professional at Memorial High School recently turned in his classroom keys to take a more lucrative job outside of the education field.

One principal had a male science teacher tell him that he could make four times his teaching salary working in the oil business as he could make in one year of teaching.

“For many men it is always going to be a monetary thing, and as long as our culture identifies men as the breadwinner we will find men going into other areas,” said Sequoyah Middle School Principal Jeff Edwards.

“Society dictates men should have healthy, if not the best, salary in the home. That is unfortunate because it turns boys becoming men on a path where they can’t choose service over money. They have to provide a level of living that the rest of the world perceives as being the breadwinner.”

What might be considered by some as modest pay is not the only challenge that men face as teachers.

It’s woman’s work

Since the 1890s when females first had to stoke the fire, clean the floors and teach all grades in a one-room school, the feminization of the teaching profession has been strong.

Many people still believe those outdated notions that women are better at nurturing younger children, especially those in the lower grades, and in doing so send the message that nurturing and teaching are not important.

“In all the situations I have encountered with men in education, I have found they have had the nurturing component that was necessary to teach elementary children,” said Bill Powell, principal at Clegern Elementary.

Although Powell has been an administrator for 20 years, he spent his first 11 years as an elementary teacher teaching third through sixth grades.

“I believe that there are different levels of nurturing, and as a child get older the nurturing aspect takes a different stance,” Powell said.

Unfair labeling

Besides the idea that women are better at nurturing, there also is the fear of pedophilia or homosexual issues.

In an article in a 2004 issue of National Teacher Day, ” … if a man expresses tenderness or too many traits associated with being female, some parents assume the male teacher is gay.”

Another problem is that grown men who express physical affection for small children can be accused of being pedophiles.

“The ideas that men are not good at nurturing and society’s fears of pedophilia have to change in a cultural level before it changes in the educational process,” Edwards said.

Men offer a balance

Children also are missing out on different teaching approaches, alternative authority figures and male role models because there are so few male teachers.

Daryl Humann, a third-grade teacher at Clegern Elementary, said, “I think a male perspective is a little different.”

He said his form of discipline might differ from that of a woman and he might give out more handshakes than hugs, but he treats each student with respect. And, he adds, his students coming back from the middle school don’t hesitate to give him a hug.

“I had a friend who taught elementary school and really enjoyed it,” said Tom Higdon, assistant principal at Cheyenne Middle School. “He was able to reach some students that others couldn’t because of his gender.”

As society works at breaking such stereotypes, it may prove to take even more time, but as traditional male jobs become harder to find, more men might consider education.

“Ten years ago you would see a female firefighter or police officer and you would take a double look,” Higdon said. “Now you don’t even notice it.”

Someday it could be the same for male teachers in classrooms, especially in the lower grades.

Debbie Bendick, Cheyenne Middle School principal, said, “Men in the classroom offer a balance for the students in their education experience.

“Men bring the obvious to the classroom. By virtue of their experiences as a male, they bring a different perspective to the classroom.

“I think many men in education could be called ‘Renaissance Men’ because many of them have multi-interests.”

Having multi-interests is only one aspect of a successful teacher — male or female.

Teachers and administrators alike agree that whether male or female, children need teachers who can make them love learning as much as the teachers love teaching.

“Children need good teachers, male and female,” Bendick said, “teachers that are enthusiastic about their jobs and love what they are doing.”