by Joseph Harkins -

Despite the bleak job picture, elementary and middle schools are still looking for a few good men and, in fact, they are getting harder to find.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011 Current Population Survey reported that men make up only 18.3 percent of elementary and middle school teachers and 2.3 percent of preschool and kindergarten instructors. That’s a drop from the 2007 prerecession figures of 19.1 percent in grades 1-8 and 2.7 in preschool and kindergarten.

Bryan G. Nelson, founding director of MenTeach, a non-profit organization based in Minneapolis that provides information to support males in the K-12 education professions, said stereotypes about men and women, fear of false accusation, and perceived low status and pay are significant barriers to overcome.

The bureau reports men and women on high school teaching staffs are more evenly divided, but still off parity; 42 percent of high school teachers in 2011 were men, down from 43.1 percent in 2007.

“Most people say it’s because of the low pay, but in unionized school districts for the same years of experience and educational level, the pay is the same for elementary (school teachers) as it is for high school (teachers), said Nelson, who noted that percentages have actually gone up for male elementary and middle-school teachers – from 18.2-18.3 – since 2010. If it were only the pay, then the percentages of men in elementary (schools) would be the same as it is in high school. As the numbers indicate, they are not. In previous economic declines, such as from 1939-1942 which included the Great Depression and World War II, Nelson said more men entered K-12 teaching, in large part due to the G.I Bill.

“Now with that information, keep in mind if we started to pay teachers $150,000 a year, we see many more men becoming teachers, said Nelson. We know that it is a combination of reasons that are associated with the decreasing percentage of male teachers.”

Nelson tells the story of a young marine who enrolled in his local university after serving in Afghanistan. As a veteran, he qualified for a scholarship and began his studies as a business major.

After a semester, the former marine felt dissatisfied with his choice. Remembering how much he enjoyed coaching children in sports, the marine thought that, perhaps, teaching would be similarly rewarding. So, he decided to make the switch to education, said Nelson.

On the first day of classes at the school of education, he found himself in a sea of women including his professors, said Nelson. He liked the program and learning more about children, but as one of only a few men in his classes, the soldier felt isolated.

Although the women were friendly, he often found himself feeling impatient with the way they discussed topics. The former marine acknowledged that his family and friends were supportive; however, they now questioned his career choice.

Both researchers and former elementary school educators have argued that the diminishing status of teachers generally, coupled with continuing sexism against men working with children, is helping tamp down the number of males willing to enter the profession.

“Not having men teaching sends a message to children that caring and education isn’t something that males do, said Nelson, co-author of ‘Men in Your Teacher Preparation Program: Five Strategies to Recruit and Retain Them.’ Think if you are a Latino or African-American young man. If you don’t see any men teaching, particularly men who share some of your characteristics, what message does that give him?

Some experts believe that, though, girls are increasingly encouraged to enter male-dominated fields, such as engineering and mathematics, boys are given less incentive or opportunity to explore working with young children.

“Children really need strong, caring men in their daily lives and school is a place where they spend many of their waking hours, said Nelson. To change it, we need to make schools and university programs male-friendly.”