Adam Greene and Jordan Cook have spent their summers having fun — going to the pool, leading crafts and playing games. They’ve also undertaken more serious responsibilities, such as maintaining order and resolving conflicts.
They are counselors at Derry Twp.’s summer day camp, organized by the township’s parks and recreation department.
They are teachers in training. Greene, 22, of Hershey, is majoring in elementary education at Penn State University. Cook, 22, of Palmyra, graduated with a degree in elementary education from Susquehanna University.
Soon, they will increase the ranks of male elementary school teachers, but not by much. Nationally, men make up 14 percent of elementary school teachers, down from 17 percent in 1980.
That’s a shortage that dates more than 100 years, when male teachers were among the 600,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War and replaced in classrooms by women.
Relatively few men study elementary education, but school districts are ready to hire the ones who do, said Dennis Kear, dean of the College of Education at Missouri State University and a former fifth-grade teacher. He has helped districts recruit and hire teachers.
“I’ve seen average [male] candidates snapped up early in the hiring process and really top-quality female candidates bypassed until later stages,” Kear said in a phone interview.
“It wasn’t bias. It was just principals seeing a need to have male figures in the elementary school because such a high percentage of the students were from single-parent families [headed by women],” he said.
Kear experienced that first-hand when he was teaching. He said many parents asked that their children be placed in his classroom because they wanted that male influence.
“That was my first experience with that, and I really took note of it,” he said. “And each year, the number of parents requesting me increased.”
Jacquelyn Castleman, principal of the Hershey Early Childhood Center, said the male influence is good for children of all ages.
“There are those kids that definitely may relate a little differently to a male teacher,” she said.
Those who can, teach
Cook and Greene said teaching has been a lifelong career goal.
“I always looked up to my teachers and could always picture myself being a teacher,” Cook said. His grandfather taught at the Milton Hershey School for 30 years.
“My fifth-grade teacher was my first male teacher,” he said. “He set the tone for me [in terms of] my management skills.”
Greene’s mother is a preschool teacher, and his dad is a doctor. He initially wanted to go into pharmacy.
“I was going to be very bored, not nearly as happy as I would be in teaching,” Greene said. “If I go to school and become a doctor, the world has one more doctor. If you teach, you can impact [children] and make five doctors.”
This is Cook’s second summer as a camp counselor. He will begin his career this month, teaching sixth grade in Fairfax County, Va.
Greene is in his third year as a counselor. He will do his student teaching this fall and said he’d like to teach sixth-grade science.
Both men have experienced teaching’s rewards.
“It’s a great feeling to see them every day and see them grow and learn,” Cook said. “You can really make a difference in a child’s life.”
“You don’t talk to too many teachers that have been teaching for a long time [who] regret it,” Greene said. “There’s a lot of job satisfaction.”
Both want to be positive role models.
“You don’t know what some of the kids are going through at home, and the best hours of their day could be in school,” Cook said. “I hope for all my students that’s how it is — that they’re having a good time, they feel safe, they feel comfortable, they can come talk to me.”
“There’s such an opportunity here to teach kids what’s appropriate, how to act, just general morals that you don’t really see in today’s society,” Greene said.
Why so few men?
Kear said isolation and pay might contribute to the lack of male elementary school teachers. The starting salary for a teacher at Cumberland Valley is $ 39,028, plus benefits. At Central Dauphin, for 2008-09 year, the starting pay is up to $40,949.
More pressure also is put on men to go into administration, which usually pays more, Kear said.
“While many things have changed, there’s still an element of the male is supposed to be the breadwinner,” he said.
“If you have relatively small numbers [of men] to begin with in the classroom, and a percentage of them move into administration, you’ve further reduced your numbers,” Kear said.
There’s also the issue of public perception — that teachers aren’t seen as “professionals” in the same way as doctors and lawyers.
“The general public thinks of elementary teachers as that old saying, ‘Anyone can teach,'” Kear said.
Cook said he isn’t concerned he will be in the minority.
“We’re all teachers. Male or female, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “Going into teaching, you know you’re not going to get paid as much as you would hope.”
In the trenches
Jeff Paukovitch has taught first grade at the Hershey Early Childhood Center for five years. It’s the first job for the Penn State graduate and Nazareth native, who has degrees in elementary education and early childhood education.
He is the only male teacher in the ECC, which houses kindergarten and first grade. Only two teachers at Hershey Elementary, with grades 2-5, are men.
“It’s not just a teacher role — it’s tying shoes and kids crying [it’s more a parent role],” Paukovitch said. “It takes a certain kind of person to want to do this job.”
As far as being hired, Paukovitch said, it’s more about beating numerical odds than gender ones.
“Out of all the applications they get to teach in my building, very few, if any, are guys,” he said. “Let’s say you have one guy and 200 women apply — that one guy has to be more qualified than the other 200.
“I don’t think many guys are applying for the jobs. I don’t think it’s a matter of discrimination, I just don’t think they’re there,” he said.
Castleman, the ECC principal, said the ratio of male teaching applicants to females for job openings at Hershey is about one man for every five women.
Paukovitch acknowledged that teaching is “a lot of work for what you make.” His wife also teaches, at the Milton Hershey School.
“[Salary] is not even something I considered when applying for a job,” he said. “I can see how that is something people would be discouraged about, but I don’t know any teachers who are in it for the money.”
There have been studies that say boys learn better from male teachers while girls learn better from females. Kear said there’s not enough research to support that.
“[But] if a large number of kids are coming to school from single-parent families and they are surrounded by females, they may feel more comfortable in a teaching-learning situation with a gender that represents their home life,” he said.
“[So] when they have access to a male [teacher], they’re going to be more interested in that,” he said.
Paukovitch doesn’t see a real difference.
“Sometimes the girls are a little more shy about having a guy teacher, [but] the boys are usually pretty excited right away,” he said. “The girls, you kind of have to win them over.
“Once they see you care, it doesn’t take long. Once they see you’re going to make it fun and they get over the anxiety of a full day with a guy, the kids usually get pretty excited to get into the work and have fun,” he said.
The rewards, Paukovitch said, are endless, like seeing children learn to read.
“From day to day and week to week, you see growth in the kids,” he said. “They never come in unhappy or not wanting to be there. It’s a lot of work but it’s a fun job.”
- For men interested in teaching elementary school or going into the field:
- Obtain the appropriate college degrees to meet teacher certification requirements.
- Accumulate practical experience in working with children, such as being a camp counselor or swimming instructor.
- From Jeff Paukovitch, who has taught first grade at the Hershey Early Childhood Center: “Listen to your colleagues, especially when you’re a new teacher. You don’t have a lot of tricks up your sleeve. Take advice from everyone — share ideas, get ideas.”
- For school districts: From Dennis Kear, dean of the College of Education at Missouri State University and a former fifth-grade teacher: Schools need to find ways for men to come into the classroom for presentations, such as dads talking about their jobs or male senior citizens reading to children.
“It’s an opportunity for males to be in the classroom, for kids to see males in a teachinglike situation,” he said.