by Angela Mettler - American News Writer - Aberdeen, ND USA

If you’re a man majoring in elementary education at Northern State University, you’re not alone – but you’re definitely in the minority.

NSU seniors Craig Nelson and Basil Knebel said they each had about two other men in some of their education courses.

Knebel, an early childhood education minor, said he was often the only man in his early childhood education courses. Dan Swenson, an elementary and special education major at NSU, said the same about his special education courses.

What they’re noticing in their classes seems to be reflecting a statewide trend.

According to the South Dakota Board of Regents, the number of men graduating from a state college with a bachelor’s degree in education has decreased slightly in the past five years, and men have always been in the minority when it comes to getting teaching degrees.

In 2002-03, 30 percent of students receiving a bachelor’s degree in education were men. In 2004-05, 26 percent were men. In 2005-06, 27 percent were men.

At NSU, men made up 25 percent in 2002-03, 17 percent in 2004-05 and 22 percent in 2005-06.

Tom Hawley, NSU dean of education, said the difference is much more apparent in elementary education than in secondary education. He said more men tend to go into secondary education because of the content areas.

“Generally, men go into math and science more than females,” he said.

He said he believes a teacher’s salary, the presence of male role models in a young man’s life and the perception of teaching as a respectable career are factors when a man decides to go into the education field.

He said universities would like to see more men go into teaching, but it’s a slow process – students and new teachers say they remember fewer male teachers when they were young.

“I was probably like most elementary students – you never have many male teachers,” said Nelson, who chose a career in education because his father was his fifth-grade teacher.

Justin Briese, a NSU graduate in his first year of teaching, said the first male teacher he had was in sixth grade.

Briese, who teaches high school chemistry and physics at Roncalli, said that teacher served as a role model for him.

“He was one of the factors that tuned me into enjoying science,” Briese said.

Briese majored in secondary education and biology, graduating from NSU in 2004. He said his secondary education courses had an equal number of male and female students, but the elementary education courses had mostly female students.

He went on to receive a master’s degree in secondary education and coaching from NSU in 2006.

“It seemed like there were more males going into (school) administration (master’s degree programs),” he said.

Encouraging: Parents, teachers and school administrators should encourage young men to go into teaching, Hawley said.

“I think we need to remind them that they can really make a difference in the next generation,” he said.

Swenson experienced that himself. He said he struggled in school and was inspired by his sixth-grade teacher.

“I don’t know where I’d be right now if I didn’t have that teacher,” he said. “She really made me feel comfortable in the classroom. She really made learning fun.”

A male teacher in high school also encouraged him to become a teacher. He said he sees a lot of young students struggling like he did, and he wants to do for them what his sixth-grade teacher did for him.

“I want to be that person that cares for those kids,” he said. “I want to help kids learn. I want to help them succeed in any way I can.”

To receive a bachelor’s degree in education, a college student has to teach at an elementary or high school. Nelson has been student teaching in fifth grade at O.M. Tiffany Elementary School for two weeks.

“I’m really having a good time,” he said. “I haven’t taken full control of the classroom yet – they’re just kind of easing me into it.”

After he graduates in May, he plans to get a master’s degree in education from NSU, then find a job teaching and coaching basketball somewhere in the Midwest.

Swenson, whose brother teaches at Holgate Middle School, said he’d like to teach in Aberdeen or somewhere in South Dakota. After receiving his bachelor’s degrees this December, he plans to get a master’s degree in special education.

Never discouraged: Swenson, Briese, Nelson and Knebel said they were never discouraged from becoming teachers, except that people warned them about their future salaries.

“I’ve always known that it wasn’t the highest paid career, but there’s a lot of satisfaction in the job,” Briese said.

Nelson said he hopes being a man will be an advantage when he’s looking for a job.

However, Knebel thinks being a man could be a disadvantage.

“People tend to think that the lower grades are more nurturing grades and need a female (teacher),” Knebel said.

Knebel is student teaching at Westside Elementary School in Sisseton. He said he’s always loved school – he knew in third grade that he wanted to be a teacher when he read a book about Christa McAuliffe, the junior high school teacher on board the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded in 1986.

“I remember her personal motto being ‘I touch the future -I teach,'” Knebel said “That still influences me.”

He hopes to stay in South Dakota and teach after graduating from NSU in May.

Briese said the number of male and female teachers at Roncalli High School are about equal. He said he wasn’t sure if the fact that he was male helped him get a job, but he felt that his abilities to coach and teach science were pluses.

Hawley said elementary and high schools actively recruit male teachers. He said in his 10 years of being a dean, he’s never seen a male teacher have trouble finding a job.

“They are making a difference,” he said. “The schools are welcoming them with open arms.”