by Amanda Bass - Special to Orlando Sentinel

When the students that Kingsley Bennett tutors found out he was going to intern at their school, Eagle’s Nest Elementary in southwest Orlando, they were so excited that there were high-fives all around.

Bennett is a senior elementary-education major in UCF’s College of Education.

“In elementary school, where children learn the basics, there are few men,” he said. “In many families there isn’t a male role model.”

Bennett’s goal as an intern in a profession with a decreasing number of males is “to be a good role model for children, so they can see that there are males who teach and are into education.”

In UCF’s College of Education, about 18 percent of students are men, according to UCF’s Office of Institutional Research.

This percentage is slightly below the national percentage of male teachers, which the National Education Association recently announced to be at its lowest in 40 years — only about a quarter of the nation’s 3 million teachers are male.

The percentage of male elementary-school teachers is even smaller at 9 percent.

Jeffrey Kaplan, an associate professor in the College of Education, said that the lack of men in education, especially in elementary schools, can be attributed to many factors.

“It’s a function of stereotype, a function of salary and a function of perception of respectability,” said Kaplan, a former middle- and high-school teacher.

For example, in the Metro Orlando area, the average salary of a public-school teacher is $45,012, according to, which tracks income by state and region. Comparatively, electrical engineers here average $51,117 and market-research managers make $80,415.

But lower salaries are only part of the explanation for the shortage of male teachers, Kaplan said. Primarily, he said, it’s “the idea that teaching’s still considered to be a female profession.”

The limited research that has been done on male teachers gives similar reasons.

A 2002 MenTeach survey of a thousand members of the National Association for the Education of Young Children states: “The primary reasons men do not work in early childhood education, besides low wages, are stereotypes, fear of being accused of abuse, and low status of the profession.”

Organizations such as MenTeach, an online nonprofit clearinghouse for information on men in teaching, and Call Me MISTER, based at Clemson University, seek to change that perception.

Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role models) seeks to recruit mainly black male education graduates from South Carolina-area colleges into inner-city schools in the state, according to its Web site.

The Soldiers to Scholars program at UCF, which Bennett has been a part of since he has been at the university, has a similar goal.

Started in 1996 by former state Rep. Alzo Reddick, the program provides financial assistance to military veterans who are interested in becoming teachers, with an emphasis on black men.

Bennett said that in his elementary-education classes there are usually other black Soldiers to Scholars members like himself.

The program involves tutoring and mentoring kids for 20 hours each month, which Bennett does in addition to his internship and classes for his major, he said.

Nolan Crider, a secondary social science education junior, agrees that it’s important for kids to have a male role model growing up.

“Sometimes a mom and dad aren’t always together. Dad isn’t in the picture,” Crider said. “It’s good to have at least one male teacher [for students] to look up to.”

In taking education classes at UCF, he has noticed that only about five male students will be in a class of 20.

“[The lack of male students] is usually addressed at the beginning of the semester,” he said.

“It’s like, ‘Wow, there are only a couple guys in here.’ ”

Adam Finkle, who graduated with a degree in elementary education from UCF last spring, is teaching fifth grade at Midway Elementary in Seminole County.

About 23 percent of the county’s teachers are male, near Orange County’s 22 percent, according to fall 2005 data from the Florida Department of Education.

But Midway Elementary is unusual in that there is a male teacher in almost every grade, of the three or four teachers per grade, Finkle said.

“We are definitely not the norm,” he said.

Finkle decided that he wanted to be a teacher after visiting a former teacher’s classroom and being asked to teach a lesson on long division.

“As the kids were walking out the door, I heard one of the kids say, ‘Thanks Mr. Finkle! Now I know how to do long division.’ From that day on, I was hooked.”

Finkle agrees with Kaplan, Crider and Bennett. Kids need to have at least one male teacher growing up, he said.

“Kids have so many different ways of learning that I think it’s essential for them to go through having both male and female styles of teaching,” Finkle said.

“It would benefit students to have at least one female teacher and one male teacher in elementary school.”

Kaplan said that students should have all kinds of role models from different races and genders so they understand that the world comprises all kinds of people.