Though local high schools have a fairly even percentage of male and female instructors, male elementary teachers are few and far between.
In kindergarten to grade 3, they are virtually non-existent.
A sampling of 18 North Country elementary schools showed a total of 419 teachers, of which 380 are female and 39 male.
At Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School, long-term substitute Brannigan Bryant’s low, calm voice sharply contrasts with the high-pitched excitability emanating from the fourth-grade girls and boys.
He slowly paces around the room, unlike his speedy high-school football days at Moriah, and controls the students by his looming proximity.
Bryant, whose mother, Sue, is a kindergarten teacher, chose the profession because, “I love working with children and being in the atmosphere the children and other teachers have created.
“Being a male can have its disadvantages, at times, because the students can be intimidated by my physical presence. It may give them the impression that I am not approachable.”
He has also found that boys, not necessarily his students, are more likely to greet him in the hallway.
TIMES OF AWKWARDNESS
At 6 feet, 8 inches, Derrick Hopkins towers over his students at Willsboro Central School, but when he sits down to read to them, Hopkins appears to be a giant teddy bear. Having a theatrical background, as he directs many school and community shows, Hopkins uses a variety of distinct voices for story characters.
He chose the teaching profession because, “I remember doing fun activities and discovering things.
“I was stuck (deciding) between elementary ed and nursing. I can’t handle bodily fluids,” he joked. “I always felt high school was too specialized.”
In spite of his engaging personality, he notices it takes longer for girls to warm up to a male. He also feels somewhat awkward when having to help a student with a button or zipper.
Because of his size, the chalkboard’s height and classroom furniture are too small for Hopkins. When he was first hired, the superintendent said, “It’s too awkward to put you lower than fourth.”
MALE ROLE MODELS
ELCS Principal Scott Osborne has the perspective of a person who was both a teacher and an administrator. He entered into teaching because he “loved the wonder of younger students.”
He feels that a stable male is missing in the lives of so many kids – a sentiment echoed by Bryant.
On the positive side, Osborne indicated that he probably obtained more interviews when applying for a teaching position than his female counterparts.
But he noted that some people perceive that a male teacher would be “severely stern,” so problem students would sometimes be recommended for inclusion in his class.
“Not because I was competent and compassionate,” he added.
One of the problems foreseen by male teachers in the upper elementary grades was dealing with females who were experiencing body changes.
Another was a hesitancy to approach females about dressing inappropriately. Generally, the man would ask a female teacher to look at the student to determine if the attire adhered to the school’s dress code.
But most female teachers have no problem telling a boy to hoist up his pants if his underwear is showing.
Another predicament for males is being approached by younger students for hugs, according to Osborne. Bryant also expressed the need to be careful with student contact; he gives “high fives.”
Plattsburgh State Dean of Education David Hill thinks fewer males that females are attracted to the job because “it seems that many pre-service teachers perceive teaching at the elementary level as more care-giving than academic, whereas teaching at the secondary level is more rigorous because it requires expertise in a content area.”
At Plattsburgh State, 64 males were enrolled in elementary education this past school year compared with 367 females. On the high-school teaching level, 159 males and 102 females were enrolled.
One of the primary issues male teachers face, which is addressed at Plattsburgh State, is related to physical contact with students and the possibility that adolescents might misunderstand a caring teacher’s intentions.
“Teachers have to be aware that they are often the significant adult in a child’s life,” Hill said.
BALANCE IS BEST
Keene Central School Superintendent Cynthia Ford-Johnston feels “a gender balance is the best scenario, more closely aligned in the real world.”
She pointed out that male teachers bring other interests to the school, such as woodworking and hunting.
And, she said, they offer a “different sort of nurturing. They’re less likely to talk a situation to death; sometimes (they’re) more black and white in dealing with situations.”
Ford-Johnston says females may have the advantage of “being a positive role model for girls and often less intimidating to the more shy students.”
She indicated there are preconceived ideas that elementary schools need females to work with young children.
“A male teacher allows students to see both genders in the same role,” Willsboro School Superintendent Steve Broadwell said.
“It helps to give balance to the staff. It also can allow students to have a positive male role model.”